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Steve Schapiro, Martin Luther King Jr. (with Flag), Selma March, 1965 © Steve Schapiro & Fahey/Klein Gallery
Steve Schapiro, Martin Luther King Jr. (with Flag), Selma March, 1965 © Steve Schapiro & Fahey/Klein Gallery

Through my art and my heart, I want to bring these women and their stories to the forefront of world consciousness. I want people to see their faces, feel their pain, and understand both their powerlessness and their magnificent, unshakeable dignity…The women you will meet in these pages have constantly inspired me, and I’ve come to understand that their cause is our cause, their humanity is our humanity.” – Mark Tuschman

In the rural Pali district of Rajasthan, India, where child marriage is widely practiced, American photographer Mark Tuschmanis at the home of young Kala, a child bride. Elegantly dressed for her portrait in a red sari, she looks into the lens of Tuschman’s camera with great dignity. Kalawas married when she was three months old so that her family could avoid the payment of a dowry. She is now 13 and in seventh grade. She is still living with her parents, but will soon go to her husband’s home where she will be deprived of the rest of her childhood, trapped in a cycle of poverty that will include years of household labor and childrearing and very possibly, domestic abuse.

Kala’s beautiful portrait is the cover photograph of Mark Tuschman’s compelling and important new book, Faces of Courage: Intimate Portraits of Women on the Edge. Her moving story is one of many told here that address one of the most searing humanitarian issues of our time: the struggle of millions of women and girls to gain freedom over their own lives and bodies. Tuschman’s powerful images and illuminating texts reveal that for many women around the world “being born female is dangerous to your health.”

For nearly a decade, Tuschman, a veteran freelance photographer for over 35 years,traveled to seventeen countries—India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia in Asia; Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi in Africa; and Nicaragua, Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador and Trinidad in Latin America. Working in collaboration with UN agencies, foundations, and NGOs, Tuschman brings us his portraits of women and girls who are living in high-risk, often life threatening situations. The women we meet in Faces of Courage are forced into child marriages that can lead to teen pregnancy, dowry abuse, and domestic violence, including rape; sold into human trafficking and prostitution; and deprived of the education that can lift them out of poverty and despair and move them towards independence. The hardships they endure make them vulnerable to a multitude of serious health problems, many of them treatable if they can get to a health clinic in time.

Pairing sadness with hope, Tuschman also brings us stories about resilience and transformation. He high lights advances being made by innovative, grassroots organizations that focus on educating and empowering women. Within these programs they receive help that dramatically improves their lives—basic medical care for themselves and their children, surgeries to repair life-threatening fistulas resulting from pregnancy at a young age, treatment for HIV/AIDS and other diseases, and shelter from violence. They are also taught family planning and trades that can lead them to running their own businesses and achieving financial freedom. Other programs aim to combat harmful social practices such as child marriage by enrolling young girls, mentoring them, and teaching them skills that ensure their value and autonomy, including reading and writing and peer sexual education.

While his book shows examples of numerous worthy programs staffed by hard working, experienced health care professionals and social workers, Tuschman recognizes that the great work they are accomplishing is not nearly enough to go around. Without significantly ramping up funding so that programs like these can be expanded to reach more people, countless more women will slip through the cracks.Faces of Courage is a passionate call to action for us to become in Tuschman’s words–“part of the movement of our time to take a stand for women’s rights around the world.”

Faces of Courage, Intimate portraits of women on the edge
Photographs by Mark Tuschman
Val de Grace Books
format : 9×12 inch
216 photos, 344 pages