Women’s rights in global cartoons

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com here. Reposted with permission.

By Liza Donnelly, Contributor, Forbes

The global advocacy group, Women Deliver, is hosting its third conference, May 28-30, 2013, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This conference brings together thousands of activists, world leaders, healthcare professionals, corporate leaders, NGOs and global media outlets from around the world to discuss how to help improve the lives of women and girls. For the event, I was honored to be invited to curate an exhibit of international cartoonist’s art on the subject of women’s rights. The artwork, gathered from cartoonists from 22 different countries, is also collected and published in a book, titled, “Women Deliver, The World Receives.” It was wonderful to be given the opportunity to invite my colleagues to submit their artwork on the subject of women and women’s rights. Cartoons can get at the heart of difficult and important subjects in ways that words often cannot. It takes a village, and the village usually has a cartoonist or two.

You can watch the proceedings of the conference streaming live by visiting the conference website, where you can also read about what is being presented and discussed. Like them on FB, or follow them and/or proceedings on Twitter with #WDlive or #WD2013. On their website, the non-profit organization describes it’s mission as follows:

“We work globally to generate political commitment and resource investments to reduce maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health. Women Deliver builds on commitments, partnerships, and networks mobilized at the groundbreaking Women Deliver conferences in 2007 and 2010, fighting to end the deluge of preventable deaths that kill approximately 287,000 girls and women from pregnancy-related causes every year. Women Deliver’s message is that maternal health is both a human right and a practical necessity for sustainable development. We work to expand the community of partners dedicated to bettering the lives of girls and women. Our corporate forum brings together private sector representatives to collaborate on projects and solutions. We work with ministries of finance and health and global development experts to make the economic case for investing in girls and women. And, we look to the future by developing the skills of young advocates in developing countries through our workshops and online community.”

Below is the text of my introduction to the book, “Women Deliver, The World Receives” —

Everyone loves cartoons. They are a universally appreciated medium–most of the world grew up with cartoons of some sort or another. We are drawn to them as if children. It is a world we understand, it is a language we speak before we can read, and in many cases we are emotionally connected to the imagery. Some of us are even drawn to create cartoons at an early age. Those lucky enough to grow up in a country where there is access to paper and pencils, can express themselves in this medium. If you’re even luckier, you grow up in a country where you have encouragement from teachers to explore the idea of being a cartoonist for a living. If you are lucky enough to be living in a country where freedom of expression is a given, then you can explore ideas in cartoon form with unlimited abandon. But of course only a fraction of the world has these conditions. Even in countries that have freedom, it is financially difficult to make a living as a cartoonist. Consequently, it is clear that most cartoonists are driven to create, they want to communicate despite the economics of the profession. It is part of the fabric of who they are.

But while cartoons are often designed to make us smile, they don’t always make us laugh. In fact, some cartoons are more graphic statements and visual ideas than humorous jokes. And some cartoons deal with subject matter that is far from humorous, but rather is very serious. The creators of these images are artists expressing their thoughts, sharing with us what they think of an issue, an injustice. A cartoon can express the feelings of the individual, it can illuminate different cultures, and show how people react within different societies to global issues. Cartoon art can speak to issues with great force. Visually, the artwork sometimes talks to us without words, entering our subconscious as well as appealing to our intellect. Cartoons allow us to take in difficult subjects because of beautiful imagery, and we may be caught off-guard. The viewer is expecting a laugh, and perhaps may laugh; but then the viewer may also think. Because of this, we may understand an issue in a new way. We may see something that words could not show us.

The cartoons in this exhibition are about women. These artists show us what they think and feel about women’s rights, the education of women and girls, the role of women around the globe. Most countries are aware now that the rights of women are key to cultural stability and economic prosperity. What lags behind in far too many places are cultural traditions. Cartoons can help us see cultural taboos and injustices because they come from artists who are living and experiencing these traditions. Cartoons such as the ones in this exhibition speak a universal language. Cartoon art is about dialogue. At times, it can be abrasive and at times hurtful. In recent history, cartoons have caused death and destruction. Some of the artists in this exhibition have risked their safety to create what they see as the truth. But when not being hurtful, cartoons can cross language borders and show us our shared humanity. And with this shared humanity, and the help of amazing cartoonists from around the globe, perhaps we can work together to help make the world a better place.

You can find me on Twitter, tweeting about women’s rights, politics, food and cartoons.