Behind The Veil

The Globe and Mail’s Behind The Veil tackles a huge topic: what it’s like to be a women living in Kandahar today. As reporter Jessica Leeder says in the introductory photo video, “I understood that Kandahar’s women were even further from shedding their burkas than I had thought. Instead, they were scrambling to put them back on.” Behind The Veil tracks Leeder’s efforts to find out why. Over the course of a month, she interviewed on camera 10 women in Kandahar about their lives – from the tragic to the mundane.

How It Works

Behind The Veil is divided into six chapters in a Flash container. The first is about how Kandahar has become more conservative since the start of the war in Afghanistan. The second is about the fight in Afghanistan for women’s rights. The third is about the marriage “market” in which children are forced to marry older men. The fourth is about the education system where girls are now taught again. The fourth is about barriers women face to entering politics in Afghanistan. The fifth is about the hopes and dreams of the women.

For each chapter, there is a video that combines photos and narration by Leeder and a human rights activist working in Afghanistan with footage from some of the interviews with the 10 women. Occasionally, a selection of text appears in the video, emphasizing a certain sentence or single word, such as “Fear,” “Peace,” or “Commitment,” said by the activist. Every chapter also has a link to a text article from the newspaper on the same topic.

Navigating between chapters is done via a menu that pops up as soon as the user moves the mouse.

As with another Globe and Mail multimedia story, Talking To The Taliban, the unedited footage of all 10 interviews is also available for viewing.

In addition to this, there are also links to numerous related pages on the Globe and Mail website, including an article written by the Globe’s foreign editor about why the paper created Behind the Veil, an article about the methodology used,  a glossary of keywords in Afghan culture, a live chat with Leeder and a Globe photographer, a list of charities trying to help Afghan women should readers wish to get involved, and an interactive time line that stretches all the way from 1747 to the present day. These are all included on a seemingly endless scrolling menu at the bottom of the screen.

What Works, What Doesn’t

The stories the women tell are very personal. One talks about being forced to marry against her will at the age of 14 to a husband in his 30s who now beats her. Another talks about how she can’t take part in the election or the Taliban will behead her. Most cover the lower part of their face with their veil, leaving only their eyes exposed to the camera. Hearing and seeing them tell these stories makes an impact. Wisely, Leeder never appears on screen herself (as happened in Talking To The Taliban) except in the introductory video. Her narration plays over photos of Afghanistan. In this way her image doesn’t compete for attention with the interview subjects.

The overall narrative does suffer from the scope of the story. The six chapters are essentially stories unto themselves, which together begin to present the experience of Afghan women. There is some unity in that the same women appear in different chapters.

The integration with the related content, however, is more slapdash. Every time the user follows a link to another page on the Globe and Mail site, they are being pulled out of the story. As a result, there is little sense of how this content fits into the narrative presented in the videos. As others have said, navigation will make or break a multimedia story. If only the Flash container had been expanded to include at least some of the related content as well.

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