This is the final part of the 3-blog series by Jessica Mayberry, the founding director of VV on how Community Video Unit (CVU) – VV’s pioneering community media model,  in addressing sensitive issues such as caste, sex and gender, and find innovative ways to deal with them.

To read more about Ms Mayberry, visit our staff page.

A gender focus comes across in many films on any topic, because the CVUs are taught to seek out success stories or case studies that highlight women. (So a film on health would highlight women health workers, for instance.) But it is only after a couple of years that CVUs start to address domestic violence, because the CVUs fear that if they do it too early, they can alienate half their audience. And it does happen: when the CVU in Ahmedabad made a film on domestic violence this year, some men pulled out the projector cord at an outdoor screening, shouting at the producers that they were trying to cause trouble in their homes. But over the following week, the CVU helped a half dozen women file domestic violence complaints, with women coming to the CVUs office in secret the day after the screening.

The impact of the CVU on the lives of the Producers is most visible with the women Producers. Access to technology, in general, has the greatest impact on women. Women are most likely to be excluded from technology access. With video, there is a striking difference between the traditional silent woman who doesn’t raise her voice or express her needs, and a woman behind the camera, asking the questions, demanding answers, giving her opinion. We believe that journalism training — how to research, ask questions, confront authority, explain and analyse an issue — is the strongest form of leadership training, and it makes the strongest impact on women. Our female producers have had numerous victories in their personal lives when they have stood up for their work or stuck with it against the odds. One woman is the first in her community to own a scooter; one talks with pride about how the local police officer, after she accompanied him on an illegal alcohol raid, has tried to recruit her as a policewoman; several have renegotiated their marriage plans with their parents, and two have married within the CVUs because “these men respect us and want us to work.” Many are now community leaders, the go-to people in their areas on any issue. The number of issues they have worked on in their films has, it seems, given them a general knowledge which is very useful.

But just as the rewards for women in joining the CVU may be greater, so are the challenges. Women producers often face harassment when they conduct screenings, and so the female CVU Producers who do the screenings on their own are really quite courageous. And because this is full time work, finding women to take it up can be difficult. To ensure a 50-50% sex ratio, we urge our partners to start the CVU with at least a few more women than men, in the expectation that some women will drop out. At the CVU in Jodhpur with the NGO Jal Bhagirathi Foundation, finding women producers has been immensely challenging because of the extreme feudalism of the area. Nearly every female candidate the CVU has had who is from the villages has been married at an extremely young age, and villages where female foeticide is common. The CVU eventually had to compromise and take educated women from the town of Jodhpur because it could just not find enough women from the villages to come forward as Producers. So our conviction that Producers must be full-time if they are to be able to produce high quality content that is truly our own does create certain challenges too.

- To contact Jessica Mayberry, write to jessica@videovolunteers.org