How can participatory media support empowerment, dialogue and community building? This study of a participatory video workshop involving rural women in Fiji found that women integrated local norms and practices in their video production. They used social capital – relationships and social networks – as a key element. Women presented themselves as active citizens who made significant contributions to their families and communities. The project highlighted the importance of encouraging multi-ethnic or heterogeneous social networks in Fiji.
Fiji is politically volatile and multilingual, with a diverse population. Participatory video has a long association with community empowerment and social reform. The methodology for this research included participatory action research, visual ethnography and informal interviews with participants and policymakers. Workshop participants were members of the Navua Rural Women’s Telecentre Group, a multi-ethnic organisation established by the government to assist rural women in small income-generation schemes.
Social agency and community action emerged as central themes in the films made by the women. The process of video production both used and enhanced their social capital. The research also found that:
- Women presented themselves as active citizens who made significant contributions to their families and communities.
- The practice of looking out for each other in times of need is strongly valued in many traditional societies. This was evident during production, as the women called upon the participation and assistance of their neighbours.
- Fiji is already strong in the bonding dimension of social capital. Video production allowed women to extend bridging networks across ethnic lines, by visiting each other’s clubs and homes.
- Producing within their local context allowed the women to integrate the social and cultural values of their own society instead of using foreign production values
- Establishing trust with the community is vital to the success of participatory projects. Finding a community leader who has the trust of all sections of the community and the authority to engage with them is essential.
The project highlighted the importance of encouraging multi-ethnic or heterogeneous social networks in Fiji in projects of nation building and reconciliation. Some practitioners see the production process as an end in itself. However, the product can become a valuable resource for other communities and be used to inform policy and create dialogue. In particular:
- Films can serve as a powerful force for people to see themselves in relation to the community and become more aware of personal and community needs.
- The recorded images created a shift in the imagination of the bureaucracy. The women’s activities gained status in the minds of bureaucrats.
- The Divisional Head of the Ministry of Women in Fiji observed how participatory video projects like this can be integrated into the Ministry’s policy and practice. The films were seen as a beneficial tool that could be used for other projects, mainstreaming women into the development process of the whole community.