Women photographers show the impacts of COVID-19 in West Africa

Professional photography and photojournalism remain very male dominated sectors across much of the world. Throughout July 2020, CARE commissioned five women from different West African countries to go out and document the impact of COVID-19 on their communities—especially on its women and young people.  

These photos tell the stories the photographers felt were most important, and doing so in their own words. They highlighted the specific impact of the pandemic on some of the most vulnerable communities in their countries, such as informal workers, the elderly and even young people.

These photos offer a unique snapshot into how COVID-19 has affected every aspect of people’s lives in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Togo, and the ways they are adapting to cope.

Katraelle Johnson, 34 years old and mother of two children, had to retrain when Covid-19 arrived. Her grocery store was no longer receiving customers. Katraelle now makes children's clothing which she sells online. "I wonder if we'll be able to go back to our old life," she worries. "I don't know if I can get my shop back. It's total uncertainty and anxiety." Porto Novo, Benin, 2020. Photo ©Laeïla Adjovi/CARE

Laeila Adjovi, Benin

My name is Laeila Adjovi, in my day job I’m a radio and TV journalist. I’ve always been a photographer on the side, and it has become an increasingly important part of my life over the last few years—especially photojournalism and documentary photography, as well as a bit of fine art photography. I hope these photos show how these women have been able to adapt in the face of COVID-19. They show the resilience they have as well as the effect the pandemic has had on their businesses and their personal lives as women and mothers. It was a very enriching experience.

This is a photo of Katraelle. I chose it because the machine is in the forefront. She used to run a food store, but during this crisis she has turned to making children’s clothes which she sells online.

What I found important is the support she was able to get during the pandemic from others and the way she adapted with creativity and economic resilience—like many African women, and women here in Benin! She has a boutique and was able to adapt it during the pandemic, Her friend Mariam lent her a sewing machine and taught her how to use it so she didn't have to stop her business, and as a team they are now surviving the crisis together.

Mrs. Traoré Alima 39 years old, shopkeeper, fiancée and mother of 2 children in Côte d'Ivoire. Jessica Nadi/CARE

Jessica Nadi, Côte d'Ivoire

My name is Jessica Nadi. Since the start of COVID-19, the government in Côte d’Ivoire has taken quite a lot of measures to stop the spread but the virus, but these measures have had a big effect on most people, especially women working in the informal sector.

Doing this piece of work really let me see the effect this public health crisis is having. It was a window into the lives of people. For me this project was a different experience, and rich in emotion. At times it was also very challenging as currently it is rainy season here in Côte d’Ivoire, which posed real challenges in protecting my camera gear, and also meant sometimes I had to stop to help out with the flash flooding.

But all the difficulty was worth it as I met some exceptional women. Generally, I was really struck by the tenacity of these women; they’re the ones supporting their families. It made me realize the truth of the African proverb which says "If the woman gave up, the world would collapse." These women did not give up, they are the ones managing it.

This is Alima, I call her the ‘positive woman.’ Throughout the whole time we were together, she kept repeating positive statements and exuding positivity. She is the mother of two children and before the crisis she sold juice, but she was forced to stop when COVID-19 began as too many of her normal clients switched to working from home. But she wasn’t discouraged! She reoriented her business to sell peanut butter and pistachios seeing as people were more focused on food.

She said something that really affected me while we were talking. That in life there are ups and downs and we can’t stop everything just because we are currently in a down—we have to continue on the path. I found it amazing that she could stay so positive and it truly inspired me and also resonated with me as this is what I have been trying to tell myself.

Auntie Ivy from Ghana. Joy Addai/CARE

Joy Addai, Ghana

My name is Joy Addai, I have a passion for telling stories and seeing things in a different light, capturing moments and themes that would be considered ‘out of the box’. I would not say I am a very experienced photographer, but it is something I am passionate about and always looking to improve.

I actually found it easy being a female and approaching men as they reacted positively, their main issue and question was where the picture would end up. Many asked me to share their pictures with them afterwards as well.

Aunty Ivy runs a small drinking spot. I chose to photograph her because of her age—she’s in her 60s—as an older woman at higher risk of contracting the virus. I asked why was she not staying at home? She told me that even though COVID-19 had come, this was how she feeds herself so she has to work. In Ghana we were in lockdown for around 3 months. After this she went back to work immediately, but found that most of the drinks she sells had expired.

Before COVID-19 hit she had planned to get a bank loan to expand but she told me now she doesn’t know how she can for the moment, but once COVID-19 passes she will still try and get the money to expand so she can hopefully retire. What really struck me was what a hard worker she was and how she was so happy and had such an infectious smile!

Saidu M Swaray, bike rider Sierra Leone. Fatmata Jalloh/CARE

Fatmata Jalloh, Sierra Leone

My name is Fatmata Jalloh. As well as a photographer, I am also a motivational speaker for girls and women. I started photography at the age of 16 and I like to use it as a social platform for good. I usually photograph inside in a studio and don’t really do street photography, so this has been a great opportunity for me. I have always felt that pictures tell a lot without having to use any words. It’s such an important medium and responsibility and I don’t take it lightly.

Photography means a lot to me because with photography I can take care of myself, my siblings and older relatives. So, I see myself as a strong woman in photography, and also a role model to other young ladies coming up.

The photography space in Sierra Leone is very male-dominated. As a female photographer I am often not taken seriously or my ability to take photos isn’t taken seriously. They often think it is something we do for our own amusement and not as a profession. But through this project I have proved them wrong!

I have already used the money from this CARE assignment to buy more equipment and start training other girls in photography. I am starting with just five for now, but I hope to expand.

Saidou is a motorbike taxi driver. In Sierra Leone the majority of young people are bike taxi riders, as there are no other jobs out there. The first few riders I talked to said they wouldn’t speak to me, and it was hard to convince them as they’re used to having their pictures taken by strangers without asking or explanation.

He told me that things had been very difficult since COVID-19, riders are sitting around waiting and there are no passengers. People are afraid to ride the motorbike taxis as they are seen as transporting lots of people and therefore there is stigma around them that they are more likely to pass on the virus. Before COVID-19 he could make up to 150 leone per day and with that he had to pay rent for the bike as well as feed his family. He used to eat twice a day but now he is only able to go buy food once in a day.

Unemployment amongst young people has increased greatly due to COVID-19, so the number of bikers has also increased.

Mrs. Boukari is a nurse. She works at a community health unit that supports those effected by COVID-19 in Togo. Lina Mensah/CARE

Lina Mensah, Togo

My name is Lina Mensah my trade and passion is photography—it is, in fact, a family trade. My mum and dad are both photographers, as were my grandparents before them. I chose this profession to be able to be independent and sustain myself and my family.

I was interested to learn how women are surviving COVID-19 in Togo. People have been really affected here and there is a lot of fear. People are staying at home, but many aren’t able to and are forced to go out to provide for their families, putting on masks and going about their work, which is very inspiring.

This is Mrs. Boukari. She’s a nurse, she works at a community health unit that supports those effected by COVID-19 after being transferred from her home hospital without hardly any notice. She told me how in the beginning there was a lot of anxiety and people did not want to go to hospital for fear of contracting the disease, as you can see from the photo, there is no one behind her.

But I chose this photo because she is a remarkable person with a beautiful soul and when we met, she really opened her heart up to me.


 

CARE is working with communities around the world to save lives and help stop the spread of the virus. We are building on our past experience responding to outbreaks of infectious disease in vulnerable communities—all while focusing on women and girls as we know that they are disproportionately affected by emergencies.