How do you photograph gender inequality? After working on the subject for years around the globe, Swedish photographer Linda Forsell wanted to show—in a concrete, physical form—the ways in which women are still valued lower than men. Then she heard about Guatemala, where over 5,000 girls under the age of 15 became pregnant last year. It’s an issue that is actually getting worse: according to the UN population fund, the number of 10 to 15 year-olds who gave birth in the country increased by almost 25% between 2010 and 2012. Forsell booked a plane ticket. “The issue of pregnant young girls describes a wide fundamental problem that touches the root of gender-based violence and inequality in the world,” she explains. Her project “Children Having Children” documents the lives of the young Guatemalan girls who are becoming mothers before even reaching adulthood. She joined R&K from Stockholm.
Roads & Kingdoms: Thanks for talking with us. What are you up to in Sweden right now?
Linda Forsell: Actually today is my first day in Medical School, which is a huge change for me and which was partly inspired by the photography work that I did. The project that I’ve been doing with these young mothers would never have been possible without the help of some grants, and this is a result I guess of the fact that most media outlets aren’t really paying anything anymore, especially for more complex stories. As a photographer, you must work much harder to make ends meet, which left me uninspired to do my more extensive work. I actually see Med School as a way of restoring my inspiration and enabling me financially to do the kinds of projects that I want on the side.
R&K: Were you a full-time photographer before taking this decision?
Forsell: Yes. I’ve been working as a photographer for 10 years. The first six years I spent in Sweden. I started working at a small new magazine about immigration in Stockholm and then after that as a freelancer, combining my personal stuff with assignments.
Lilian was only nine years old when her mother’s 26 year-old uncle began to rape her in her home while her younger siblings played outside. Nobody really knows how often he raped her, but after two years, when Lilian was just eleven and had only had a single menstrual period, she fell pregnant. In this photo, Luis David is more than a year old, but Lilian still cannot talk about what happened to her. She reported the rape with her mother, but even though the man was found guilty he was only sentenced to a few months restraining order. Photo: Linda Forsell
R&K: And it was during that first magazine job that you noticed discrimination for the first time.
Forsell: Yes. I have a brother and growing up, I was always expected to do the exact same things as him. My father always let me shoot the shotgun, for example, and I was treated the same way as all my male cousins. So I was kind of stumped and surprised when I experienced gender discrimination at work, especially because I was working in an environment that dealt with immigration issues and discrimination issues. It was supposed to be this young, fair workplace but all the women experienced the same thing: that basically our voices were not as important as the guys’. I started thinking about that a lot, and then I had a couple of random experiences where I worked on the subject. At the same time, I also ended up in a relationship that contained a bunch of psychological abuse. Not physical, but it was a bad year. And so all these things combined, and a couple of weeks after I broke up with that guy, a colleague of mine, a writer, called and asked if I wanted to work on a project with her about violence against women. We worked on that project for almost two years and traveled to 10 different countries. After that, I felt I wanted to dig deeper into a specific project and try to find a way to visualize gender-based violence. And then I heard about the situation in Guatemala.