Virtual Reality is Feminism’s Latest Tool in the Fight for Equality

SXSW hosted essential discussions that left one thing certain: VR has enormous potential to effect social change. Lamparina was there, and here’s everything you need to know about the future of feminism in VR

This article originally appeared in Lamparinascope

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what’s the value of feeling someone else’s emotions? Will the day we’re able to see reality through a different point of view be a turning point in the fight for more progressive social policies? For fans of Virtual Reality, this isn’t a question, but rather a certainty.

While VR is mostly known as an entertainment medium, it can also be a powerful way to convey messages about social issues. With that in mind, Merck For Mothers, a global initiative that supports women during pregnancy and childbirth, decided to invest in technology that makes the user feel like part of a virtual environment. “It’s new to most people, but you don’t forget how you feel when you watch something in Virtual Reality,” says Mark Allen, senior program manager.

To highlight the pain of a mother’s death during childbirth, Merck For Mothers created “Push”, a video that depicts the difficulties a woman in Uganda faces while trying to get to the hospital. “This kind of technology is very immersive, but is also one of the few where you can communicate a message without distractions since you have to wear proper glasses and sometimes even headphones, so it’s a rare opportunity to transmit a social problem,” Mark continues. VR can trigger an immediate sense of empathy, causing the viewer to feel the emotions almost as intensely as the subject of the narrative—an important breakthrough for feminist causes.

Joanne Sprague, leader of the Marketing Program for Social Progress at Facebook, explained why the social network believes in the power of VR: “We invest in this technology because it’s a platform that reduces the distance between people. Those who watch it feel they share the same experience that is being presented in the narrative.”

Social politics

Although VR is a relatively new technology and still inaccessible to a mass audience, the videos can still be used to influence key local policy makers. VR’s impact isn’t just measured by how many people watch: though audience reach is valuable, who’s watching is even more important. For example, NGOs can use VR to show high net worth donors how their investments are being used in remote centers of operation far from the boardroom.

“I went back to Uganda after the shoot, so I decided to show the VR video to an executive at a local health federation,” Allen remembered, saying that she immediately wanted to take the film to government officials. “This will remind them of the health system that they are responsible for, because a lot of these officials sit in the capital cities and seek their health care outside of the country. We need to remind these policy makers of the types of environments that exists in some rural and urban communities in the country that they are responsible for.”

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