In disaster-prone areas like Barishal, a major city that lies on the bank of Kirtankhola river in Bangladesh, life for women is a constant struggle. Against the backdrop of social and economic marginalisation, which these women face daily, frequent flooding and cyclones pose an additional and perpetual threat to their families and careers.
As part of its ongoing campaign to raise awareness for issues that directly affect women in areas like Barishal, British Red Cross invited Rosie Matheson to photograph members of the Women’s Squad — a community group funded and set up by the NGO. Over the course of a week, Matheson visited several communities, capturing stories about how these women are finding solutions to tackle issues that affect their small businesses and families.
Matheson is a documentary and portrait photographer based in London and Brighton. She has worked with numerous fashion brands and magazines including Nike, Adidas and i-D, but this is the first time she has collaborated with an NGO.
“It was important to me to photograph these women as I would anyone else. With everything I shoot, there is a sense of responsibility of capturing someone as honestly and as true to life as possible,” she says. “You want to do a story justice. I wanted to stay as far away from the typical coldly-lit, depressing images you see of developing countries, and try to communicate the similarities between us all and a sense of relatability.”
Among the people Matheson photographed is Misti, a 37-year-old taxi-boat driver in Barishal. Among a workforce of over 40 drivers, Misiti is one of only four female employees. Like many people in her community, Misti’s whole life has been affected by extreme weather events. In 2007, her family houseboat was destroyed during the devastating cyclone Sidr, and she has since been made homeless three times. With support from the Women’s Squad initiative, she was able to buy a new boat, and is now saving up to buy land to build a house.
Other subjects include Nargis, 25, who was able to start a business selling cakes and khichdi, an Indian dish made from rice and lentils, and Ayesha, 40, a fisherwoman who has been able to repair and protect her boat from adverse weather.
“Sometimes it can be hard to connect with something so far away from you and so different to how you see yourself,” says Matheson, who believes that photography is particularly effective for communicating complex stories, but also as a way of connecting with people. “When you meet someone, all of that falls away; you’re both human — their problems aren’t too far from your own.”
Donations made to the British Red Cross through UK Aid Match, up to the value of £2m, will be doubled by the UK government. With your help, we can support thousands of strong women – and, as a result, their communities – to be even stronger.