Four minds of Gender Equity – The making of a stop motion animation

By Esteri Tebandeke

I write this as I sit reflecting on the past few months and how far I have come since I got the notice to apply for the HIVOS funded project that led to one of the most challenging and inspiring projects that I have ever been involved in. I am used to working alone on my visual arts projects and that has served me quite well for a long time. But on this particular one, I had no choice in the matter.

So, what does a group of artists with backgrounds in different fields have in common when they come together to work on a topic as huge and as controversial as Gender Equity?

Nothing!

One would be hard pressed to even imagine that these artists of different sexual gender, opinions, beliefs; both cultural and religious can come together to form one mind on something as elusive as gender equity.

Three months, once a week was all they had.

Gender Equity has over the years become a topic so common on the lips of Ugandans and yet when used or even discussed in intimate spaces, the term still makes no sense to many. I am also grappling with the definition and I feel that we need to figure out a way to define it in a way that makes sense universally.

I pose it to you the question: What is Gender Equity?

Does it evoke any thoughts in particular?

Does the word equality instead jump at you and are you scratching your head wondering what the difference is?

Noticeably, using these words sometimes has people saying one to mean the other.

They however are not far from each other. Both words have similarities which understandably creates the confusion as these artists would find out over the three months.

These artists would soon come to realise that some factors clearly were at play in deciding what and how people received and understood this topic. One of those factors being the one’s gender. How the men received it was completely different from the women.

Why does the same phrase mean two different things to both men and women?

As a woman, I constantly find myself in situations that make me question societal hierarchies. Being a feminist, I am also frequently misunderstood as part of a group of women that want to bring men down. Even in a contemporary society that has become part of and interacts with the global village, independent minded women are a threat to the values and customs of our ancestors. Our cultures can evolve but not our thinking.

As I engage with society in Uganda, I want to find a way to talk about gender equity in a civil manner without any walls going up in defence and insecurities flaring up. There is absolutely nothing wrong with considering each one’s worldview and respecting the same, as long as it is not detrimental to society as a whole. And the answers are complex, but we should not shy away from asking the questions to enable us advance our cultures for posterity.

My involvement in the project began when I saw a call for applications. I quickly filled out the online form which came with very challenging questions. Some required, for lack of a better phrase, outside-the-box thinking. Once, accepted, the team was constituted.

We opted to create a stop motion short film because we felt that we had the appropriate skillset among the team members to make it work. We are a team of four with two animators, a director and a digital marketer. Stop motion came naturally because we saw it as a medium that would reach a large number of our target audience. It is also a very hands-on project that encouraged interaction for the team.

Stop motion is a very raw style of telling stories. The puppet making and props and building of the world is all quite exciting. Each of us took on our strengths in dividing the tasks. We sat together and brainstormed the story.

One of us put together the script, the animators worked on developing the characters and environment and then one took on the digital marketing and online presence. We also all worked together with the animators when they needed the help.

I chose to be the director because stop motion is a style of storytelling that I have always been fascinated about. I felt that this would give me an opportunity to try my hand at directing work that is unfamiliar and broaden my view and skill.

The first feeling I got was excitement. Then the fear crept in along with imposter syndrome. I was not sure I would be able to manage a project in a medium that was foreign to me. Being part of a group helped a lot because it did not feel exclusive, everyone was very helpful.

Stop motion incorporates in my opinion, photography, puppetry and cinematography. All three aspects are very exciting. What I did not realise is how much work would go into making just one frame while filming. I was quickly humbled and I have a newfound respect for animators.

Challenges came in thick and fast. Working in a team is always quite challenging because artists are very passionate. The other thing is that each of us have other projects running parallel to this project and the pace kept slowing down. The medium of stop motion is very time consuming and we quickly realised that we each had to invest a lot of time in telling the story.

Nonetheless, being accepted on to the project was really exciting. Stop motion for me was a welcome challenge and I have learned a new skill of storytelling. I was involved in developing the story, writing the script and making the puppets. These made the project worth the effort and I do not regret for a single moment.

The space we worked in, Design Hub, is a very creative space and has a lot inspiration to tap into. There are artists from different media working independently as well as collaboratively to support each other as they create and/ or develop solutions to everyday problems.

Our objective and hope from the initiation of the project was to get both men and women to view gender equity not as a battle but a conversation that should be had because it benefits everyone. We also would like to engage them in a community and not independently to make these conversations rich and meaningful. With the stop motion film, we hope to capture the topic and start open discussion with men especially and let them express their thoughts about gender equity freely.

Having worked on the film challenged my views on what equity really means to me and the rest of society and I look forward to presenting this film with the rest of the team to our audience, both at home and abroad. I was so inspired and encouraged after working on this project that I am actually working on a script for my next short film.

Figure 1: Official poster

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