To many, ‘Carrier Women’ are invisible because they are an entrenched part of Congo’s social fabric. But for photographers, Eliane Beeson and Francois Vaxelaire, they are a potent symbol. “They are bended and seem to carry on their back the burden of Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s social, economic and political situation.”
Several times a week, the Carrier Women walk from the fields to local markets with heavy loads of agricultural products on their back. The trip is over several kilometres and women of all ages – even young girls – can be seen baring loads that are as heavy as 1-2 tonnes. They will earn less than 1 dollar per day for this back breaking work.
Not only do the Carrier Women suffer the obvious physical consequences of their job, but they are prime targets of gender-based violence and rape by rebel groups that have haunted the region for the last decade.
For social and cultural reasons, men do not do this work. In many ways, you can say that the economy of the region and transportation of goods to market, rests squarely on the shoulders of its women – literally.
Beeson and Vaxelaire decided to share the story of Congo’s Carrier Women by taking a hundred portraits in makeshift photography studios. The women themselves were heavily involved in the process and final images.
The resulting images were so powerful that Beeson and Vaxelaire worked with a local NGO called L’Observatoire de la Parité to produce life-sized portraits that they posted to billboards as a protest against violence towards women and call for gender parity.
If ever there was an example of the power of photography this is it. More than beautifully composed images, this series shares a story with the world that we all need to hear.