The Photographic Journal

The Right to Play

Essay 502 • Jul 10th 2022

Worldwide, 129 million girls are out of school and only 49 percent of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education with the gap widening at secondary school level. From a young age, many girls are told what their future will look like. The expectation is: you grow up, you get a husband and you have children. And that's your life.

What do girls dream of? And what happens when a supportive environment is created where girls are empowered and given the opportunity to learn and dream? The Right To Play creates a playful world where girls are shown in an empowered and affirming way. Every day, girls face barriers to education caused by poverty, cultural norms, and practices, poor infrastructure and violence. For this project, I’m working with school girls to show what the world could look like when girls are given the opportunity to continue learning in an environment that supports them and their dreams.

For this project, I worked with the girls from Kakenya's Dream, a nonprofit organization that leverages education to empower girls, end harmful traditional practices including female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage, and transform communities in rural Kenya. Their goal is to invest in girls from rural communities through educational, health, and leadership initiatives to create agents of change and to create a world where African women and girls are valued and respected as leaders and equal in every way.


Lee-Ann Olwage, born in 1986 in Durban, is a visual storyteller from South Africa. Her work is all about identity, collaboration, and celebration. She is interested in using the medium of photography as a mode of co-creation and celebration. With her long term projects, she aims to create a space where people she collaborates with can play an active part in the creation of images they feel tells their stories in a way that is affirming and celebratory.

Notable awards include a World Press Photo Award, 2020, Winner of This Is Gender, 2021, Pride Photo Award, 2021, CAP Prize shortlist, 2022, Marilyn Stafford Fotoreportage Award shortlist, 2021, International Photography Awards Honorable Mention, 2020 and selected for The New York Times Portfolio Review 2022.

She is a member of Native, Women Photograph and African Women in Photography.
Website | Instagram

A part of this project was created during my participation in the PHmuseum Documentary Photography Masterclass and my tuition for the masterclass was generously supported by the IWMF (International Women’s Media Foundation).