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The Initiative: Activism through art and dance, tech education, and a movement against sexual violence

Four impactful projects around the globe offering support to communities in need.

In this installment of The Initiative, we take a peek at projects in Hong Kong, the UK, the US, Syria, Ukraine and the Central African Republic – all of which are tackling gender equality, environmental activism and social justice from new perspectives:

Hong Kong: Eco Atrophy

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Tanja Wessels on Lap Sap Wan beach in Shek O in May 2019. Photo: Alex Macro

After writer and environmental activist Tanja Wessels and photographer Alex Macro met in 2017 through Circular Community Hong Kong, an environmentally focused networking group, they began exploring unexpected ways to raise awareness about sustainability. Their efforts evolved into Eco Atrophy, an ongoing awareness campaign that traverses mediums, from photography projects to art installations. 

Last year, Wessels spent a week collecting surplus cling film packaging from her local supermarket. It quickly amassed into a 13-kilogramme ball, which the duo displayed at The Conscious Festival 2018 at PMQ to illustrate the unimaginable volume of single-use plastic waste generated every second. 

For their most recent project, Wessels and Macro teamed up with a multidisciplinary sports competition Adventure Cleanup Challenge to spread awareness about the city’s waste-clogged coastlines through a powerful photo series.

UK: AWA Dance Initiative

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Photo: Ava Dance Company

The dance industry’s infamously patriarchal infrastructure has affected women’s professional growth for decades. Fewer than a third of artistic directors in the US are women, according to the Dance Data Project.

Mallorcan-born ballet dancer and choreographer Avatâra Ayuso is striving for better balance. In 2008, she founded Ava Dance Company, a dance ‘laboratory’ in the UK where female dancers and creative collaborators from other backgrounds, such as poets and architects, work together on contemporary dance projects.

Earlier this year, Ayuso established the AWA Dance Initiative (Advancing Women’s Aspirations in Dance) to support girls’ and women’s leadership development on and off the stage. Set to debut next year, AWA will use dance as a tool to connect professional female dancers and aspiring youth in a series of events across the UK and Europe.

US: Girls Who Code

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Photo: Girls Who Code

A nonprofit based in the US, Girls Who Code was established by Reshma Saujani in 2012 with a mission to close the gender gap in the technology industry. Since then, the organisation has opened more than 4,000 Girls Who Code clubs across the US and taught more than 185,000 girls – half of whom come from historically underrepresented groups.

In addition to courses, Girls Who Code provides career pathways and a supportive community of peers and role models. Looking ahead, the nonprofit plans to team up with tech giant Apple to provide coding courses to 90,000 more girls around the US.

“From the time girls are young, we are teaching them to smile and be pretty, to play it safe and get all A’s,” Saujani told CNBC in an interview. “And we’re not teaching them to take risks, we’re not teaching them to fail. And so much about coding is about failing.”

Global: Zero Impunity

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Photo: Zero Impunity

A global social justice movement, Zero Impunity endeavors to give a voice to disenfranchised victims of sexual violence in conflict zones across Syria, Ukraine and the Central African Republic. The organisation combats the issue from all angles – investigative reports, documentaries, activism, art and online polls – in an effort to raise awareness.

At its core is a namesake animated film, Zero Impunity, by French directors Denis Lambert and brothers Nicolas Blies and Stéphane Hueber-Blies, which was released earlier this year. Based on six in-depth investigations by 11 female journalists, the film recounts stories of sexual crimes during war through the voices of survivors, whistle-blowers and psychologists.