Peter Gabriel, the lead singer of the ‘80s rock band Genesis, has been a human rights activist for three decades. In 1992, he co-founded WITNESS, a non-profit organization that uses video technology for the advancement of human rights.
The idea was formed after a bystander recorded the violent beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles law enforcement. The footage was sent to a local news station, and soon went viral internationally. This was one of the first instances where civilian video footage was used to expose the hidden injustices of our society.
Today, almost everyone has a camera in their pocket at all times, which enables the public to video-document injustices and abuse. However, people often do not film safely or effectively, which leads to their videos not making much sense or being of any use in a court of law. WITNESS trains human rights activists on the safe, effective, and ethical uses of video, and provides tools and apps to ensure that people are able to play a stronger role in uncovering the injustices via video recording.
WITNESS now has 425 partners in 108 different countries, and has trained more than 7,100 people on how to use video technology effectively. Their materials and videos have reached over 260 million people!
“In this age, when mass media rests in fewer and fewer hands, we must have strong, vital, independent voices if we ever want to hear all the stories or seek justice. We have an incredible opportunity to save lives,” says Gabriel.
WITNESS has completed many projects with other organizations that aim to combat gender-based violence and promote women’s rights. In 2009, a video advocacy training program was conducted with the Healthy Options Project Skopje (HOPS), which aimed to increase HOPS video production and teach their staff professional videography methods. Later that year, WITNESS and HOPS finalized a video part of a campaign to reduce violence committed by police officers against sex workers in Macedonia.
The video was widely distributed throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and has been shown in training sessions to police authorities and outreach programs to members of the judiciary, mass media, civil society, and the sex worker community.
As a result, HOPS reported a decrease in the number of incidents of police brutality against sex workers, an increase in the reporting of violence from sex workers, and an overall more respectful portrayal of sex work in the media.
“What WITNESS does is create, support, and sustain a global network of people who use video as their tool, as their weapon. This network reminds us that we are not a single voice, we are not alone,” says activist Esra’a Al Shafei.
In their work with HOPS, and countless other organizations, WITNESS utilized video media as a tool to combat violence and discrimination against women. Now there is a specific campaign by WITNESS that provides support to activists and survivors of gender-based violence around the world.
WITNESS empowers victims of violence and survivors of injustices to use the power of video to share their stories, make their voices heard, and serve as a catalyst for the change they seek in their lives. It also teaches organizations and the public how to conduct these videos to ensure that they are as effective as possible.
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