It’s time to challenge white saviour mentality

The antiracist research network RASTER supports the criticism and demands raised by SahWira Africa International towards the recent award-winning PLAN International Finland campaign “Maternity wear for a 12-year old”. We also encourage other organisations to continue the critical discussion about the repetitive gesture of speaking on behalf of and “saving brown women”.

The PLAN campaign is an example of white saviour mentality and re-centering of the Western gaze. The campaign portrays a young girl in maternity wear in the Zambian countryside, directing the Western gaze on her pregnant body and framing the young girl as the object of pity and lost possibilities. At the same time, she and other pregnant girls are asked to pose in the style of Western fashion industry that emphasises their bodily curves and eroticises young black girls. The campaign seeks to raise funds by drawing on white saviour mentality and invites the white Finnish audience to “rescue” African girls in a manner that reminds of colonial representations. It is not a call for equal relations and raising awareness about global power relations, but for paternalistic benevolence of the white Finnish audience to participate in what Gayatri Spivak has called “the saving of brown women from brown men”. Two Finnish celebrities, photographer Meeri Koutaniemi and designer Paola Suhonen, provide the campaign visibility and are given the space to speak on behalf of the African women and men. It is time to stop this kind of white saviour campaigns. If PLAN wants to enhance children’s education in Southern Africa it can certainly create campaigns that provide a prominent role for African actors, present them as capable persons and discuss the economic structures enabling/hindering children’s education. Child pregnancy is not only a gender question but also part of larger societal and global structures, involving economic inequalities and North-South power relations that are rendered invisible with this campaign.

Therefore the coordination group of RASTER encourages further debate on the PLAN campaign, following the initiative of Dr. Faith Mkwesha. We demand critical interrogation of white saviour mentality instead of the individualising focus on one girl and her family’s consent that PLAN International Finland’s responses so far have built on.

RASTER invites the following organisations to continue the discussion and to demand respectful ways of representing black children and non-white people overall: ETMU (The Society for the Study of Ethnic Relations and International Migration), SUNS (The Society of Gender Studies) and Ruskeat tytöt. We hope you will in turn invite and challenge other organisations to participate in the critical discussion.

The PLAN campaign

Latest initiatives and ways to participate in the campaign at SahWira Africa International’s Facebook– and Twitter-pages.  We encourage all organisations and individuals who support equal global and local relations to join the campaign.

Twitter: @sahwiraAfrica  @mkweshafaith #ProtectBlackGirlsToo

Dr. Faith Mkwesha’s interview on the topic


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