Category Archives: awareness


schermafbeelding-2016-10-16-om-09-45-03©Nathalie Majerus

I’m so happy and honored that Valentin Bianchi included my photograph of Maryam (not her real name) and her mom in the #dysturb project plastered on the wall of the city of Liège here in Belgium.

#Dysturb is an incredible project created by Pierre Tjerdman and Benjamin Girettein response to the lack of publications of specific news topics in our mainstream media.
They decided to plaster their images on the walls of Paris and with a proper caption, inform people in the city about things happening around the world which magazines and newspapers didn’t publish.

schermafbeelding-2016-10-18-om-22-26-46©Nathalie Majerus

And so now it’s the first time #dysturb is hitting Belgium streets and I couldn’t be happier that they chose an image of mine from the ‘Because I’m a girl’ series on Rape in Pakistan.
The topic of rape, violation and sexual predatory behavior now even seems more of an acute topic with a horrible man like Donald Trump running for the office of President of the United States of America while publicly denouncing and degrading women, even on record saying how he forces himself on women by kissing and groping them without their consent.
It’s beyond mind boggling and I would recommend you watching a speech that Michelle Obama gave a good week ago, stating perfectly what I feel on the topic.

“Strong men, who are truly ROLE MODELS, don’t need to put down Women”

It’s estimated that worldwide 1 in 5 women will become the victim of rape or attempted rape during her life.
Violence against women is prevalent all over the world and rape in particular has become a ‘weapon of war’ and tool to systematically oppress, control and marginalize women.

I started working on the topic of rape in Pakistan in 2011 and continue to do so on each visit. It’s so important as it is still very much a taboo subject.
In Pakistan around 85% of women face various forms of gender-based violence.
Women and girls are being murdered, kidnapped, raped, killed for honor, have acid thrown on to them.
The Pakistani government rarely takes action and the perpetrators are hardly punished. Unreliable statistics hide the actual magnitude of the problem. Data gathered by the police is notoriously unreliable because of underreporting of cases or their refusal to lodge F.I.R.’s (First Information Report) needed to start criminal procedures.

Maryam (not her real name) was raped by her school teacher when she was just 5 years old.
When asked what the biggest change in her daughter was after the rape happened, Maryam’s mother said she wasn’t carefree anymore and didn’t smile as often as she used to…

I walked to the rape and murder site with the father of Ali, a boy who was raped and killed in the outskirts of Karachi. His grandmother crying while the family told me the horrific story of what had happened.


Besides suffering psychological trauma and the attached stigmatization, the women and their families are often harassed by the families of the rapist.
They blackmail the victims and try to persuade them into dropping the case or settle out of court. Like Jamila, mother of Sobia, a girl who was raped and killed by a young men who she went to school with and whose wedding proposal she refused. The culprit ran away and still to this day is not found and brought to justice. Meanwhile the neighborhood threaten to abuse Jamila’s other still surviving daughter Sana, hoping the family will then drop their court case.


It’s an uphill battle for all the victims and families I met. Young girls get robbed of their smiles, some women carry lasting physical scars, boys are as vulnerable as girls, their innocence easily taken away.

As always, I continue to work on these topics that become personal to me once you know some of the families. I hope having my image plastered on the walls of Liège and writing about it here will add a little drop of awareness one way or the other.

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Sick of it all

Schermafbeelding 2016-03-27 om 23.15.06

Belgium has been rocked by extreme violence last week, with the brutal bomb blasts in the airport and metro of Brussels, killing and wounding so many people.

After following the news that day in what felt like a haze, making sure all my friends living and working in Brussels were safe, I knew things in Belgium will never be the same again. From now on there will be a before… and an after…
I won’t let fear stop me from taking another flight at Brussels airport and when visiting friends or places in town, I will still take the metro. But in the back of your mind, a thought will always, ever so slightly cross your mind…
Will I be safe…

And then today… Another heinous suicide attack in Lahore, Pakistan, killing at least 69 people, wounding hundreds.. mostly women and children. Targeted specifically on this day, Easter, against the Christian Minority of Lahore.
Another attack in a countless number of them that Pakistan has known over the years, where we don’t really hear world leaders speaking up.

Again religion being misused by extremists, to kill human beings who are enjoying an evening out in the park with their families, friends hanging out, generally people having a good time, not hurting anyone. Gone…

I’ve come to know many Christian families in Pakistan and photographed for a while in a Christian community in Islamabad a few years ago. And what I always try to do in all my work is show the person in my photographs. A humanity, shared humanity, so we don’t focus on our differences, but on what we have in common. Rich or poor, black or white, Muslim, Christian or Atheist, in the first place we are human being who want the same things in life.

Why?  How can they kill in the name of anything really? On the basis of another God you worship? Another color of ones skin? Another language you speak? What makes them decide they have the right to choose that another life, another human being is not worth living and you can just kill them off? Just like that…

I’m just so sick of it all…


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Unite to end TB


Today is World TB day, and it reminded me of an assignment I did 3 years ago with Doctors without Borders.

I traveled to Tajikistan, where I photographed children being treated by MSF for Multiple Drug resistant TB (MDR TB), a very long and hard process for these often very young children.  Try explaining to a 6 year old to take multiple medicine every day that give multiple side effects for about 2 years but which are necessary to get cured …

This year’s World TB theme is ‘Unite to end TB’ and that title reminded me of photographing my first patient in Dushanbe. 18 year old Mijgona, who was the first fully cured MDR TB patient in MSF‘s TB program in Tajikistan, which was being celebrated with a small party.

United in celebrating. A happy moment and hopefully it was a reminder for some of the other children still in process of the treatment, that there was hope.


© Wendy Marijnissen

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Sheema gi

On this International Women’s day, I want to introduce you to an amazing woman that I am honored to call my friend.

Sheema Kermani, dancer, theatre director and activist from Karachi, Pakistan.


She lives in a country where women’s rights still have a long way to go. Where some laws might be changing slowly in favor of equal rights, but where implementing these laws is not really happening yet.

She lives in a place where people still look down upon the art of dancing, deemed as unislamic and improper.

All that doesn’t stop Sheema, who is a true force of energy, which is needed to keep motivated in advocating change that isn’t effecting in immediate results. She teaches the Indian classical dance art like Bharatanatyam and Odissi to young women and uses theatre to bring messages of equal rights, violence against women, rape etc to villages all over Pakistan where the majority of the people can’t even read or write.

In an interview with her she also says this: ‘The arts and the women of Pakistan have been the two major victims of Zia’s policies. The state introduced legal and social forms of control over women as part of its campaign of suppression and made women’s sexuality their business. State forces were preoccupied with women’s dress, their movements, their sexuality and their very presence in public spaces. In the name of religion, laws like the “Hudood Ordinances”, “Qisas”, “Diyat” and “Blasphemy Laws” were introduced and are prime examples of laws that devalue women, arts and humanity. The very first programme that was banned on PTV by Gen. Zia ul Haq was ‘Payal,’ a dance programme. But as it happens with anything that is banned, people always find a way to circumvent it. We do not announce our institution as a dance academy. We offer training in dance but call it movement classes. I run Tehrik-e-Niswan and we use dance as a movement for theatre of protest.’

Women like Sheema are an inspiration to me. They breathe energy and power. The power of women.

So… happy women’s day Sheema. Thank you for being a beautiful part of my life.


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Moonie’s daughter

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

How a story I’ve been working on, all of a sudden became close and personal… Many of you already know that for the past 7 years I’ve been working on photographing maternal health stories in Pakistan. As a woman, I became interested in photographing the lives of women here and intuitively I ended up working on the theme of motherhood. I saw women give birth in hospitals or in the home of a traditional midwife. I witnessed emergency c-sections, fistula repair operations and surgery on prolapsed uteruses. I traveled all over the country from Karachi, Lahore, the interior of Sindh, the border of Baluchistan, Swat valley and flood camps to the desert areas of Mithi to document various aspects of maternal related issues. The sad fact is that a huge number of women and babies are still dying unneccesarily in Pakistan due to lack of proper healthcare infrastructure, lack of skilled staff, use of traditional customs by dai, remoteness of their village, etc etc… I thought I’d experienced everything, but today has really got me in tears. During this trip, I’m staying with my host family, who all are doctors, mostly gynecologists, and who have been my guide and support in the past years. The experience is and has been heartwarming so far and gave me a totally different view on life here. You become a part of the household and slowly start to get to know the whole family and the staff working here. And the fun thing is that everyone starts to get to know me too. Moonie, our cook, for instance knows of my addiction to the incredibly tasty Pakistani mango by now and with love sets the table and cuts a piece of this delicious fruit for me. 8 days ago though, after breakfast when we were trying to communicate in our simple way, as we both don’t speak each others languages, she was called outside. A family member had come bearing bad news that something happened to her daughter in Hyderabad and that she had to come immediately. Returning in the house, I saw the shock and fear in her eyes as she scrambled to get her things together. Later that day I heard the awful news that her daughter, who was full term pregnant from her 3rd baby, suffered complications and both mother and baby died… I don’t know yet the particulars of what exactly happened, but today as I was sitting on the terrace reading the newspaper, I saw Moonie returning to the house. I followed her in, where we hugged each other. It was an intense and devastating hug, Moonie crying from the depth of her soul… Feeling her pain, I couldn’t stop my tears either… For the first time in all these years, with seeing and experiencing many upsetting moments, this time it really hit home and became real and very personal. The numbers of maternal deaths that pop up in various rapports by ngo’s all of a sudden got new meaning, as one of these numbers now is Moonie’s daughter… In this moment I feel utterly helpless… I’m not able to do anything for Moonie, I’m not even able to communicate and tell her how sorry I am. Yet I hope that all the work I’ve been doing here, will make a difference in the coming years, will educate people about the situation here and will slowly improve the conditions in which women give birth here…

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Diversity is a reality

Three years ago, while working on Us/Them, my project on Muslim women and the veil in Belgium, I took this picture below of the election campaign of extreme-right political party Vlaams Belang.
(It still creeps me out that this type of advertisement polarizing and stigmatizing is possible at all.)

© Wendy Marijnissen - Extreme right political party Vlaams Belang started their campaign for the local elections with a poster of a woman in bikini wearing a burqa. The slogan read 'Freedom or Islam? Dare to choose', presenting Islam as the biggest threat to Flemish society. Aartselaar, Belgium, 2012

Extreme right political party Vlaams Belang started their campaign for the local elections with a poster of a woman in bikini wearing a burqa. The slogan read ‘Freedom or Islam? Dare to choose’, presenting Islam as the biggest threat to Flemish society. Aartselaar, Belgium, 2012  © Wendy Marijnissen

Today, I’m reminded once more of how relevant my project US/Them is…

I’m reading an article in the newspaper about how aggression against Muslims is on the rise after the sparked fear following the killings in the offices of Charlie Hebdou in Paris, the incident in Verviers and the Belgian army guarding ‘strategic places’ in the streets of my city Antwerp.

Muslim people are being harassed for being Muslim. They get remarks or are called terrorists because they wear a headscarf or jellaba…

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

In this climate of fear and hate, an anti-Muslim movement Pegida Vlaanderen has arisen and is trying it’s best to create even more fear and distance between people.

Yet they seem to forget that diversity is already and always will be a reality and something everyone needs to accept. Instead of polarizing somebody because they wear different clothes or have different religious believes, we should put more effort into ways of learning from each other and making sure everyone has chances to participate and feel included in our society.

It shouldn’t be ‘Us versus Them, but ‘together’. WE all are ONE

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

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Today, Malala Yousafzai’s struggle for girls to be educated in Pakistan, which led to her being shot and nearly killed by the Taliban two years ago, led to her jointly winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Her relentless campaign for girls and women’s rights was recognized a day before the International Day of the Girl Child and is an incredible strong signal to the world. Education is and remains key to change. 

On my travels in Pakistan and Afghanistan, I’ve met many young brave girls like Malala that, despite the constant threat, defy tribal traditions and seek to be educated. For us in the West, it’s impossible to understand that going to school could mean you get killed by extremists. Yet thousands of girls get up every morning and  go to school to become doctors, midwifes, teachers, engineers, etc…

The images below are of Afghanistan, were the educational system was almost completely destroyed by the Taliban.


© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

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Ik doe aangifte

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

Today about 20 people, among them city council member Fauzaya Talhaoui (sp. a), went to the police station to put down an official complaint against extreme-right politician Filip Dewinter for inciting hate and racism. 

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