Photo credit: Amira Al-Sherif
A Photojournalist Helps Girls Around the World
“I was sent to photograph people in Afghanistan who were setting themselves on fire,” says photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair of what turned out to be a life-changing assignment fifteen years ago. “These girls were so vulnerable to abuse, they were committing suicide in the most horrific way.”
Sinclair was hardly new to the horrors of war, humanitarian crises, and some of the darkest stories of our time. By the time the now-44-year-old arrived in Afghanistan, she had already covered the Iraq War, the death penalty, and human trafficking for The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, and National Geographic. Over twenty years photographing unfathomable suffering, Sinclair developed an ability to separate herself from her subjects—a skill that was not only necessary to do her job, it was paramount.
But Afghanistan was different. “That was the turning point,” she says. “Many of those girls were married between the ages of nine and thirteen. The more research I did, the more I understood how prolific the problem was.” Ultimately, it was Sinclair’s experience in Afghanistan that inspired Too Young to Wed, the non-profit she created to spread awareness about child marriage around the world. The organization advocates for the eradication of the practice, which is as traditional as it is harmful. According to UNICEF, child marriage can compromise a girl’s development any number of ways—early pregnancy, abuse, social isolation, lack of education. And its ubiquity is sobering: one third of girls in the developing world are married before eighteen, states the International Center for Research on Women.
“Many of those girls were married between the ages of nine and thirteen. The more research I did, the more I understood how prolific the problem was.”
For Sinclair, a mother of two, Too Young to Wed is the culmination of a two-decade-plus long career that started during her youth in Florida. As a middle school student, “I remember being fascinated and excited about how the news can impact viewers, and how it felt to be on all sides of it,” she says. It’s also a portfolio of Sinclair’s talent–for color, composition, and light. Her photos of girls who have endured the unimaginable are a study in beauty and perseverance. Sinclair ambitiously captures the resilience of these young girls in a way that is at once jarring and quietly hopeful. “My mother was a prolific painter, so I grew up around all these colors and huge paintings. I think that influenced my visual communication and aesthetic in the way I compose things, and the role that color plays in my work.”
In partnership with the United Nations Population Fund and photo agency VII, Sinclair’s Too Young to Wed takes shape as a traveling photo series, with some of the images captured by her, and others from the survivors whom she’s trained via the organization’s photo workshop series. This month, it will host its first gala on March 8th, International Women’s Day, in New York City, with former Boko Haram child brides Ya Kaka and Hauwa as well as journalist Ann Curry and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. There will be a silent auction featuring work by Lynsey Addario, Ami Vitale, and other photographers.
“Life can give you a thread if you’re paying attention, and if you follow the thread with your heart forward, your path will be clear.”
For more than twenty years, Sinclair has focused her lens on truth, beauty, and female empowerment. And since her assignment in Afghanistan so many years ago, it’s a drive that feels intensely personal.
“Life can give you a thread if you’re paying attention, and if you follow the thread with your heart forward, your path will be clear,” she says. “You just have to listen.”