‘Women of the South’ is a project by Egyptian born Photographer, Rehab Eldalil which documents women who are rebuilding their lives after human trafficking. Rehab speaks a bit about the various forms of human trafficking in Egypt on her website stating the following, “As [the] economy decreases in the country - in rural villages south of Egypt, women as young as 14 are recruited for human trafficking and prostitution in order to provide a better life for their family and siblings. Women are sold - usually multiple times - in a form of unregistered marriage[es] to men from Arab countries (Egypt, Jordan, Dubai etc) some women get divorced to restart the cycle, other women become hostage in the mercy of their ‘client’ and some other women take the courageous choice of escaping the never ending tragedy.”
When talking to Rehab about what inspired her to make this project, she shared the following, “…this project, specifically, was a commission by a Swiss Foundation that works in Egypt, Ive been working with them for the past 8 years. I don't work with NGO’s unless I know that they are on the ground- since there are alot of NGO’s that say bull shit! Whats great about this Foundation is that they ask me to tell stories about local initiatives that are trying to help people in Egypt. My job is to either report an issue that is happening and how these local organisations are contributing to solving these issues in order for them to get funded by the Foundation. For this particular story, an organisation has been working independently with women who have escaped human trafficking in Southern Giza. It's a story that not many people have heard about in Egypt, so the Foundation wanted me to go out, work with these women and share their stories.”
When shedding light on a topic that is hidden from the public view, it is imperative to approach it with sensitivity, something that Rehab certainly demonstrated through her images. Each photo taken exudes a ‘fly on the wall’ approach, an approach that is not voyeuristic but instead, is a testament to the amount of time that has been well spent engaging with the participants to the point where they are comfortable with the presence of the Photographer. It is in situations like this, where the most authentic moments are captured.
“I didn’t want to re-victimise the women. Alot of them had been trafficked since they were 14- since they got their periods basically. The parents would sell them off to a man for a week or two under un-registered marriage certificates. The men would stay with the young girls in crappy hotels or fly them out to another country. They would then return the young girls with un-registered divorce certificates and then the cycle would continue. Many of these ladies have had children as a result of this” shares Rehab.
As a Photographer, we have a powerful responsibility which is to photograph each of our contributors with dignity. When working with vulnerable individuals, the way that we photograph them can have various impacts on them, the viewer and your own practice as a Photographer. The images in ‘Women of the South’ illustrate not only the resilience and strength of these women, but also their vulnerable moments, moments which have been shared with the viewers in a way which seems as if the women themselves are giving us the permission to see them in that light. Rehab's images are more of an invitation for us to engage with these women and become a part of their journey from the inside, as supposed to being an observer from the outside.
“We shifted the story from focusing on what happened before as when hearing about a traumatising situation consistently, you tend to distance yourself from the survivor, I wanted to show how badass these women are! Leaving the perpetrator, having a child, getting a house and owning a business.” Rehab Eldalil.
Rehab Eldalil is a Documentary photographer and Visual Storyteller. Her work focuses on the broad theme of identity explored through participatory creative practices. To view the rest of the project, visit her website.