When State Prosecutor, Joan Kagezi, was assassinated on Monday night, it was reported that her family was with her in the car. Then Tuesday’s New Vision had a frontpage picture of Kagezi with her children. Aren’t they witnesses!? I have watched enough crime TV to even ask, shouldn’t they be under state protection until it is determined that there is no threat to their lives as well?
We might have to decide, at some point, how we want our stories. Especially in this age of smartphones, public viewings of deceased people, and NGOs becoming our crucial service providers. NGOs, especially in the health sector.
Imagine a small NGO (or a big one) going out to a village to carry out HIV Counselling and Testing. They have funders to report to, and social media accounts with hashtags to feed. There is probably a woman, an HIV-positive woman, who is happy they have come because she hasn’t accessed ARVs in a while. She shows up and finds they are only testing. Although she knows her status, she believes these – being health people – might be able to help her. She narrates her story to show them the seriousness of the situation.
Her story makes their newsletter. Name. Age. Picture. Village of Residence. It is circulated everywhere on the internet and in pamphlets.
Now this is a hypothetical situation, but everyone in the NGO world who knows about the pressure to report – live from the field, these days – knows this kind of situation.
Pictures of women testing for HIV. Giving their names and status in caption.
Pictures of children. Stories with details of their lives.
Sometimes there is consent. But what is consent? If I was a young woman somewhere in Madudu, without a smartphone, how would you imagine I give consent to my picture being circulated on Twitter? There is less than one million Ugandans on Twitter. (There were only 25,000 Ugandans on Twitter in 2013.) How do you explain to her what Twitter or Facebook is?
And most importantly, the person asking for consent is in a position of power. They are bringing much needed services to the people. The young woman probably thinks she has no option but to give consent, just so she gets the service.
During the Hoima launch of the Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission, we had a picture show up on our Twitter timeline. Of a pregnant mother – her name and age given – said to be getting her ARVs. Good job, mother. UNICEF, can we have a look at that consent form please?
After an exchange with us, they decided to take down the picture.
@Women4WomenUG consent was obtained, and names & age have been changed.However taking into account your comments, we’ll take down the tweet.
— UNICEF Uganda (@UNICEFUganda) March 23, 2015
That same day however, New Vision had published a story, “Mayuge HIV+ mother: My relatives wish me dead.” The woman had been abandoned by her family at the hospital. It was an important story to tell, but why did the reader get details of her children? Their ages, names, and the names of their school. All of these children were under 18.
Was it impossible for New Vision to tell the story while protecting the children’s identities? This was a story of stigma from those closest to them: their family. What would such details then achieve?