Snap shots from a photo competition: what does it reveal about close-to-community providers, gender and power in health systems?
George A., Theobald S., Morgan R., Hawkins K., Molyneux S.
In this commentary, we discuss a photography competition, launched during the summer of 2014, to explore the everyday stories of how gender plays out within health systems around the world. While no submission fees were charged nor financial awards involved, the winning entries were exhibited at the Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2014, with credits to the photographers involved. Anyone who had an experience of, or interest in, gender and health systems was invited to participate. Underlying the aims of the photo competition was a recognition of the importance of participation of community members, health workers and other non-academics in our research engagement and in venues where their perspectives are often missing. The competition elicited participation from a range of stakeholders engaged in health systems: professional photographers, project managers, donors, researchers, activists and community members. In total, 54 photos were submitted by 29 participants from 15 different nationalities and country locations. We unpack what the photos suggest about gender and health systems and the pivotal role of community-level systems that support health, including that of close-to-community health providers. Three themes emerged: women active on the frontlines of service delivery and as primary unpaid carers, the visibility of men in gender and health systems and the inter-sectoral nature and intra-household dynamics of community health that embed close-to-community health providers. The question of who has the right to take and display images, under what contexts and for what purpose also permeated the photo competition. We reflect on how photos can be valuable representations of the worlds that we, health workers and health systems are embedded in. Photographs broaden our horizons by capturing and connecting us to subjects from afar in seemingly unmediated ways but also reflect the politics, values and subjectivities of the photographer. They represent stereotypes, but also showcase alternate realities of people and health systems, and thereby can engender further reflection and change. We conclude with thoughts about the place of photography in health systems research and practice in highlighting and potentially transforming how we look at and address close-to-community providers.