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Sierra Leone in West Africa is ranked by the United Nations as one of the poorest countries in the world and shockingly women’s life expectancy is in the mid 40s. From Friday 4th March 2011 to 15th April 2012 the International Slavery Museum hosts ‘42’ Women of Sierra Leone, a moving and powerful photography exhibition that explores this terrible statistic.
‘42’ Women of Sierra Leone features images from a collection of work by freelance photojournalist Lee Karen Stow who has spent the last four years visiting Sierra Leone. The selection of 42 colour photographs, some of which have never been seen before, document women and their daily lives at home, at work and with their families. Each image captures the many emotions experienced by these women including joy, courage and most importantly, hope.
'42' Women of Sierra Leone also launches in time for the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day on Tuesday 8 March 2011. This global day celebrates the economic, political and social achievements of women but also acknowledges that despite these great strides there is still a great deal to be done. International Women’s Day and ‘42’ Women of Sierra Leone both provide the opportunity for visitors to address the inequalities that still exist today.
The exhibition forms part of Look11 - Liverpool International Photography Festival. Launched in May, this is the first photography festival to be held in the city.
For the last three decades Freetown, Sierra Leone has been twinned with Stow’s birthplace of Kingston-upon-Hull, UK to foster cultural understanding and friendships. In 2007 on a visit to teach photography to a group of women in Freetown, Lee Karen Stow saw first hand how difficult life is and discovered that the life expectancy for women at this time was just 42. About to turn 42 herself, this led Stow into a project that documented these women’s lives. Stow’s life expectancy, as a white woman living in the West, was almost double at 83.This sad comparison angered Stow and compelled her to question this gross imbalance and violation of human rights.
Lee Karen Stow says: "Despite positive steps to improve women’s lives in the developing world, too many women still suffer immense hardship and despair. Women do not have equal access to education, economic opportunities, health facilities or social freedoms. This is not just happening in Sierra Leone, it is happening elsewhere. My aim for the exhibition is to show that these women, and women in similar circumstances, should be given the right to live, not die.
“ ‘42’ Women of Sierra Leone is about putting a human face to the statistics and showing the beauty, spirit, hope and the value to society of women who wake each morning with the belief that one day, life really will get better. And if these women are given more time, more years, more respect, just see what they can do and achieve.”
During the period of transatlantic slavery, Bunce Island in Sierra Leone was of one of the largest slave forts on the Rice Coast of West Africa. By the late 18th century, as the abolition of slavery approached, Sierra Leone was chosen as a location for a new colony of former slaves and the capital of Freetown was founded.
In 2002, Sierra Leone emerged from an 11 year civil war in which its people were killed, maimed, raped and displaced. Despite improvements in infrastructure, overseas aid and investment, the country suffers from abject poverty and high unemployment.