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News

Education Professor Claudia Mitchell Receives $2.5 Million in Funding for Visual Arts-Based Initiative

Published: 5 June 2024

Gender disparities persist glaringly around the globe with gender-based violence standing out as one of the most widespread human rights violations. Alarmingly, only 52 per cent of women who are married or in a union freely make their own decisions about sexual relations, contraceptive use, and health care. The United Nations has identified transforming harmful gender norms as a critical goal among its 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

This need for urgent action is driving an ambitious multiyear project at McGill that will bring together 40 researchers, 16 universities, and 11 partner organizations —including NGOs, policy actors, and publishers —with hundreds of youth from around the world to study how to empower young people as pivotal agents of change in gender equity, specifically through visual arts-based methodologies.

Led by Claudia Mitchell, Distinguished James McGill Professor in the Faculty of Education, TRANSFORM: Engaging with Youth for Social Change is supported by a recently announced $2.5-million Partnership Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

“This ambitious initiative, which unites researchers and youth worldwide to tackle gender inequality through the visual arts, exemplifies the spirit of innovation and collaboration that we champion at McGill University,” said Martha Crago, Vice-President, Research and Innovation. “Congratulations to Professor Mitchell and her partners for this remarkable achievement. McGill is also grateful for SSHRC’s generous support of TRANSFORM, which has the potential to change young people’s lives.”

Understanding gender transformation through artistic expression

At the core of TRANSFORM lies the concept of gender transformation—a radical approach aimed at dismantling unequal gender dynamics to mobilize social change. Although gender transformation serves as a guiding framework for feminist practices in global engagements, the concept is understudied, particularly in real-world implementation contexts.

TRANSFORM aims to fill this pressing need by supporting a series of youth-led interventions to study how young people around the world experience, envision, and enact gender transformation through the visual arts at field sites in Africa (Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa), Latin America (Argentina, Mexico), and South Asia (India).

"It's a dream for me to be able to bring this project together across six countries,” says Claudia Mitchell, who serves as the Director of the McGill Institute for Human Development and Well-Being and the Founding Director of the Participatory Cultures Lab at McGill. “To have SSHRC support this project is very affirming of why we need to invest in young people and deepen our understanding of participatory arts-based approaches.”

TRANSFORM also raised over $3 million of in-kind and cash contributions from McGill and other universities and partner organizations.

Cross-border collaboration to disrupt harmful gender norms

From photography to performance art to textile production, TRANSFORM’s young participants will create diverse forms of artistic expression exploring gender norms in relation to issues that matter most to them including climate change, queer activism, sexual and reproductive health, and mental health.

“It’s being sensitive to what it is that young people in these different country contexts see as critical in their lives,” says Mitchell. “These are also increasingly interrelated issues and studying gender transformation can provide a holistic and intersectional framework to work with.”

TRANSFORM plans to bridge geographic barriers by leveraging social media, international conferences, journal publications, art exhibitions, and film screenings to serve as platforms for dialogue and action. In addition, a youth summit will be held at a different field site each year, starting in South Africa this August.

“We’re imaging these as transnational spaces for young people to talk to each other through their art about how they see the significance of disrupting gender norms, and how they see gender equality going forward,” says Mitchell. “They can then use this work to have a direct impact on their local communities and on global policy dialogues.”

TRANSFORM will be supported by local and international NGOs such as Oxfam, Plan, Equitas, Right To Play, and Code. Institutional partners include the University of British Columbia, Concordia University, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, National Autonomous University of Mexico, University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, amongst others.

Learn more about SSHRC’s Partnership Grants

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