Faces of courage – intimate portraits of women on the edge

In the rural Pali district of Rajasthan, India, where child marriage is widely practiced, American photographer Mark Tuschman is at the home of young Kala, a child bride. Elegantly dressed for her portrait in a red sari, she looks into the lens of Tuschman’s camera with great dignity. Kala was married when she was three months old so that her family could avoid the payment of a dowry. She is now 13 and in seventh grade. She is still living with her parents, but will soon go to her husband’s home where she will be deprived of the rest of her childhood, trapped in a cycle of poverty that will include years of household labor and childrearing and very possibly, domestic abuse.

Kala’s beautiful portrait is the cover photograph of Mark Tuschman’s compelling and important new book, "Faces of Courage: Intimate Portraits of Women on the Edge" ( Val de Grace Books, October 2015). Her moving story is one of many told here that address one of the most searing humanitarian issues of our time: the struggle of millions of women and girls to gain freedom over their own lives and bodies. Tuschman’s powerful images and illuminating texts reveal that for many women around the world “being born female is dangerous to your health.”

For nearly a decade, Tuschman, a veteran freelance photographer for over 35 years, traveled to seventeen countries—India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia in Asia; Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi in Africa; and Nicaragua, Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador and Trinidad in Latin America. Working in collaboration with UN agencies, foundations, and NGOs, Tuschman brings us his tender and unflinching portraits of women and girls who are living in high-risk, often life threatening situations. The women we meet in "Faces of Courage" are forced into child marriages that can lead to teen pregnancy, dowry abuse, and domestic violence, including rape; sold into human trafficking and prostitution; and deprived of the education that can lift them out of poverty and despair and move them towards independence. The hardships they endure make them vulnerable to a multitude of serious health problems, many of them treatable if they can get to a health clinic in time.

Pairing sadness with hope, Tuschman also brings us stories about resilience and transformation. He highlights advances being made by innovative, grassroots organizations that focus on educating and empowering women. Within these programs they receive help that dramatically improves their lives—basic medical care for themselves and their children, surgeries to repair life-threatening fistulas resulting from pregnancy at a young age, treatment for HIV/AIDS and other diseases, and shelter from violence. They are also taught family planning and trades that can lead them to running their own businesses and achieving financial freedom. Other programs aim to combat harmful social practices such as child marriage by enrolling young girls, mentoring them, and teaching them skills that ensure their value and autonomy, including reading and writing and peer sexual education.

While his book shows examples of numerous worthy programs staffed by hard working, experienced health care professionals and social workers, Tuschman recognizes that the great work they are accomplishing is not nearly enough to go around. Without significantly ramping up funding so that programs like these can be expanded to reach more people, countless more women will slip through the cracks. "Faces of Courage" is a passionate call to action for us to become in Tuschman’s words – “ part of the movement of our time to take a stand for women's rights around the world.

Mark Tuschman has worked as an international freelance photographer for over 35 years. As a photographer committed to issues of global health and development and the basic human rights of women and girls, he was privileged to receive several awards, including the photographer of the year award from the Global Health Council in 2009-2010, and, in 2014, the Grand Prize in a worldwide photo competition sponsored by Social Documentary Network and Management Sciences for Health. His work has been featured and exhibited in many international health and development conferences, including: The Pacific Health Summit in London in June 2010, a conference promoting women’s reproductive health care, and in September 2011, The Audacia Forum, a conference on promoting girls’ education in New York. In 2012, his images were used to illustrate the UNFPA 7 Billion Campaign and the Women Deliver Conference in Malaysia in 2013, where he also was the featured photographer and had a major exhibit. Most recently, his photography was exhibited at The Carter Center Human Rights Defenders Forum in Atlanta in 2015.

"Faces of Courage" by the Mark Tuschman book launch and reception on Wednesday, Oct. 14, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Ford Foundation. Presentation by Mark Tuschman with remarks by Jill Sheffiled, Women Delivier, and conversation with Charlotte Bunch, former Global Fund for Women board member. Reception and book signing to follow.

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