Artists and activists deserve payment for their work.

30 Jul

It is time for us to speak up about unpaid labour in the arts and activism.

My career in media started over 25 years ago and 20 years working in the activism space. I started as a TV presenter and actor, and we believed that we needed to work on many projects for free as it was vital for our brand. PR and marketing people would always push the notion that they had invited VIP’s and high profile people, and our presence could lead to other work and projects. I believed this for many years until I started to see that I undervalued myself and my time. What I found interesting is how angry people suddenly got when I began to set boundaries, adding terms and conditions to my contacts, asking about the usage, coverage and stopping further exploitation.

Working in the activism space is a different journey. I embarked on activism as it has always been a calling. It was a calling that I knew would help with my healing and possibly help others. I needed to understand my confusion after abuse and see how we could change that narrative. In 2003, I completed my primary training through an intensive training course with a local NGO.
I was trained and, work in counselling, court preparations with victims/survivors, accompanying people to court and police stations and creating awareness. These jobs and activities I do on my account. I am now a registered counsellor and life coach and have opened a practice to combine this work, offering pro bono counselling sessions to those that cannot afford it.

Like my media work, I am invited into spaces to share my intellectual property, experiences, challenges and fears. This work extends into speaking engagements and facilitating work, and clients expect us to work for free under the banner of women empowerment or giving back. Some clients believe that as we are activists, we must do additional work for free. These attitudes and narratives need to change. I often laugh at how this term, ‘women empowerment or ‘giving back, is thrown around, yet many want to put restrictions and demands on us. How is that empowering? We have the right to give back in our way, and nobody has the right to make demands on how we do so.
I have written on the topic many times and spoken on my podcast platforms. My famous line to clients who say that I should do it as a way of giving back and a form of women empowerment- you cannot empower women by disempowering another woman.

My sister/comrade/client Dr Bev Ditsie said in a recent interview that during Women’s months, many women in the entertainment industry don’t work as events are handed to men under the facade that they are giving women a rest. The irony is that many of us in entertainment have suffered financially. Many of us deal with sexism, homophobia, transphobia and biphobia daily. There are still unequal pay structures in the workplace which is disempowering. So the question is, how can we rest with so much emotional and additional trauma?

Over the years, I have worked with international human rights bodies, and several of these bodies understand the need for remunerations. Several institutions do not have huge budgets but will offer an honorarium as a thank you and validation that they see us and respect our agency and time.
It is disappointing when other agencies state that they do not have a budget for speakers, facilitators or thought leaders. The same spaces have a budget for international consultants and firms but cannot respect an activist or artist.
An activist is a person who is an expert in their field and provides another form of consultancy, whilst an artist contributes a service.
I have argued this with many of these agencies. If their policies stated that they do not pay artists, it is hypocritical since they run campaigns, programs that speak to women in the unpaid labour in other sectors.
We cannot apply a rule to one sector of the population and ignore others. The reality is that the organisers and some representatives have primary jobs where they receive salaries. Speaking, facilitating and activism is the only job for many. Activists do a lot of groundwork for free, often ostracised, their safety at stake, should not be expected to do additional work in corporate and global spaces. When launching these campaigns and platforms, it is at events, panels that require speakers and entertainers. I get it, as including a global brand onto your resume adds value but is that fake accolade enough when you are hungry.

In 2019, I engaged with one of these agencies, who tried to make me work for free on a project. The work required many hours of my time, research, intellectual property and then facilitating a discussion. The representative said I should do the gig to prove myself? I reminded him of my many years of experience and asked why I should prove myself. I used their previous event as a reference where they hired a man with less experience than myself and paid him his rate. Was he asked to prove himself?

Covid-19 has disrupted the whole world and further inconvenienced womxn and the LGBTQI+ community. We have all had to change our way of working, thinking and operating. It is time for human rights bodies, productions and broadcasters to discard their old way of thinking. We are in a crisis. Creating gender equality includes acknowledging and seeing everyone. Forcing unpaid labour is another form of slavery.

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