Special exhibition: Resilience

Resilience - stories of women inspiring change

Credit: Maarten Nauw.

The World Press Photo Foundation, the Kingdom of the Netherlands present a selection of stories, awarded in the annual World Press Photo Contest from 2000 to 2021, that highlight the resilience and challenges of women, girls and communities around the world.

Gender equality and justice are fundamental human rights critical in supporting cohesive societies. Yet women around the world face deeply entrenched inequality and remain underrepresented in political and economic roles. Worldwide in 2021, women represented just 26.1% of some 35,500 parliament seats, only 22.6% of over 3,400 ministers, and 27% of all managerial positions. Violence against women prevails as a serious global health and protection issue. An estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.

This joint exhibition conveys the commitment of the Netherlands to women’s rights and gender equality and justice. Multiple voices, documented by 17 photographers of 13 different nationalities, offer insights into issues including sexism, gender-based violence, reproductive rights, and access to equal opportunities. The selection of stories explores how women and gender issues have evolved in the 21st century and how photojournalism has developed in the ways of portraying them.
Credit (left to right): Leo Bicalho;  Istiak Karim/Drik.
Presented here is a selection of the stories and photographs on display in the exhibition, currently on a worldwide tour.  See below for the list of locations. 

What photographs resonate with you, and why? Share your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #WPPhResilience.

Finding Freedom in the Water by Anna Boyiazis

A young woman learns to float, in the Indian Ocean, off Nungwi, Zanzibar, on 24 November 2016. Credit: Anna Boyiazis.

Finding Freedom in the Water shares the story of students from the Kijini Primary School who learn to swim and perform rescues, in the Indian Ocean, off of Muyuni Beach, Zanzibar. Traditionally, girls in the Zanzibar Archipelago have been discouraged from learning how to swim, largely due to the absence of modest swimwear. The Panje Project teaches local women and girls swimming skills in an effort to reduce high rates of drowning.

This story awarded in the 2018 World Press Photo Contest can be considered an example of photojournalism with a solutions approach. Rather than focusing only on problems, solutions journalism reports on how people are trying to deal with difficult social issues and what we can learn from their efforts. The series looks at how teaching women a vital skill like swimming can be an important step towards emancipation and gender justice.
Left: Swimming instructor Kazija (22) teaches students from the Kijini Primary School to float, in the Indian Ocean, off Muyuni Beach, Zanzibar, on 19 October 2016. Right: Swimming instructor Chema (17) snaps her fingers as she disappears underwater, in Nungwi, Zanzibar, on 28 December 2016. Credit: Anna Boyiazis.

Taking a Stand in Baton Rouge by Jonathan Bachman

Leisha Evans (35) stands her ground at a rally protesting police violence against Black men, outside the Baton Rouge Police Department in Louisiana, United States, on 9 July 2016. Credit: Jonathan Bachman, Reuters.
On 9 July 2016, Jonathan Bachman documented Leisha Evans protesting the death of Alton Sterling, who was shot at close range by white police officers. This photograph, awarded in the 2017 World Press Photo Contest, portrays Evans' calm demeanor in stark contrast to the heavily armored police officers. The photograph went viral on social media, became a symbol of peaceful resistance and joined a collection of photographs connected to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Colombia, (Re)Birth by Catalina Martin-Chico

Yorladis is pregnant for the sixth time, after five other pregnancies were terminated during her FARC years. She says she managed to hide the fifth pregnancy from her commander until the sixth month by wearing loose clothes. 24 February 2018. Credit: Catalina Martin Chico, Panos Pictures.
In the years that followed the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel movement, there was a baby boom among former female guerrillas. Women had been obliged to put war before children and leave babies with relatives or undergo forced abortions. Dayana joined the guerrilla forces when she was 15, leaving behind her four-month-old baby. She only saw her son again 17 years later. Following the peace deal, Dayana was reunited with her family and had a second child with Jairo.

Colombia, (Re)Birth was awarded in the 2019 World Photo Contest. Catalina Martin-Chico spent four months understanding the situation and building a network in Colombia to gain access and develop relationships with the women in this story—many of whom she remains in contact with. She describes her approach as “slow journalism.” 
Left: Dayana (right) and Jairo, both previously with the FARC, lie on a bed with their daughter Andrée Nicole, and Jairo’s sister Liliana, in Rio Guayabero, Colombia, on 21 February 2018. Right: People celebrate the 53rd—and final—anniversary of FARC as an armed rebel group, in La Elvira transition camp in Valle del Cauca, Colombia, on 28 May 2017. Credit: Catalina Martin Chico, Panos Pictures.

Blessed Be the Fruit: Ireland's Struggle to Overturn Anti-Abortion Laws by Olivia Harris

Figures representing Ireland’s dark treatment of women, line up for social media cameras, before parading silently through the streets of Limerick, Ireland, in an appeal to residents to change the law against abortion, on 13 April 2018. Credit: ​​Olivia Harris.
Following decades of campaigning by feminist activists, on 25 May 2018, Ireland voted by a large majority to overturn its restrictive abortion laws. Olivia Harris documented the protests in this story awarded in the 2019 World Press Photo Contest. Since 1983, the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution had effectively banned terminations. More than three years since the new bill was signed, campaigners for reproductive rights continue to advocate for improved access. Irish women and girls are still traveling to the United Kingdom for abortions due to a lack of available care and time restrictions on terminations. 

The Pink Choice by Maika Elan 

Doan Huu Dieu (25) and Nguyen Trong Hieu (49), who have been together for three years, wake up at home in Vinh Phuc, Vietnam, on 27 July 2011. Credit: Maika Elan, MoST Artists.

In 2012, Vietnam's first pride parade took place in Hanoi. By 2015, a bill lifting the ban on same-sex marriage was in effect, but these unions are not legally recognized. In 2020, Human Rights Watch reported discrimination against Vietnam's LGBTQ+ youth caused by the common belief that same-sex attraction is a mental health condition. In this story, Maika Elan aimed to capture the casual daily activities of LGBTQ+ couples to evoke feelings of familiarity and empathy. The story was awarded in the 2013 World Press Photo Contest.

 Crying for Freedom by Forough Alaei

Women follow the AFC Champions League Cup match between Iran’s Persepolis and Japan’s Kashima Antlers from a segregated section of a stand at the Azadi Stadium, Tehran, Iran, on 10 November 2018. Credit: Forough Alaei.
Female fans are restricted from entering football stadiums in Iran. Pressure from FIFA led to a ruling in June 2018 allowing Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to admit limited groups of women, but they remain banned from most matches. Risking arrest, female football fans have disguised themselves as men to enter stadiums and to advocate for women's rights. While working on this story awarded in the 2019 World Press Photo Contest, the photographer Forough Alaei dressed as a man to enter a stadium with a female fan.

Forough Alaei formed a close connection with the women in the story. As a female, Iranian photographer, she was able to portray the nuances and complexities of this community of women.
Left: Male and female fans have to use separate parts of the stand at the Azadi Stadium, Tehran, Iran, on 10 November 2018. Right: A female fan passes out after Iran’s Persepolis loses the AFC Champions League Cup to Japan’s Kashima Antlers, at the Azadi Stadium, Tehran, Iran, on 10 November 2018. Credit: Forough Alaei.


Resilience has shown in over 30 locations, including: Armenia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Greece, China, Egypt, France, India, Italy, Israel, Japan, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, Serbia, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam.
More locations will follow soon. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay updated about our upcoming exhibitions.