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Extraordinary Photographs by Women on Forefront of Conflict

Stephanie Sinclair is the newest recipient of an international award honouring dedication and bravery of women photojournalists.

What does it take to be named one of the most courageous photojournalists on Earth?

You can ask Stephanie Sinclair, who this week will be honoured with the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award, an honour granted each year by the International Women’s Media Foundation to a single photographer.

Sinclair, a National Geographic and Pulitzer-winning photographer, is known for getting access to the most sensitive areas of the world to photograph the lack of human rights or people’s quest for equality. She often uses empathy to take compelling images of vulnerable people. She most recently photographed the face of albinism and the marginalised people who live with it.

"Whenever I saw him, I hid. I hated to see him," Tahini (in pink) recalls of the early days of her marriage to Mated, when she was 6 and he was 25. The young wife posed for this portrait with former classmate Ghana, also a child bride, outside their mountain home in Hajji, Yemen, in 2010. There is currently no minimum legal of marriage in Yemen.

Marzia, 15, struggles while having her burns cleaned in Herat, Afghanistan, in 2003. The painful ritual is performed daily by the nurse as part of her recovery process. In a suicide attempt, Marzia said she herself on fire, afraid of her husband's violent reaction to her breaking the family television set. They were married when she was just 9 years old.

Zindiba, 19, attends school in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 2016. Her arm was hacked off while, as a small child, she tried to protect her mother from combatants during Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war. Her lifelong injuries will prevent her from many types of employment, she now hopes for support in continuing her education.

A girl undergoes FGM during a mass ceremony at a school building in Bandung, Indonesia, in 2016. According to UNICEF, at least 200 million girls and women in some 30 countries today—including about half of Indonesian girls under 12 years old— have undergone FGM. The procedure continues to be performed—under varying hygienic conditions.

A Syrian mother tries to warm up her daughter by a makeshift bonfire, after their arrival on the island of Lesbos, on June 18, 2015. More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, sparking a crisis as countries struggled to cope with the influx, and creating division in the EU over how best to deal with resettling people.

A man evacuates a boy, while other migrants and refugees lay on the ground after Macedonian police fired tear gas at hundreds of migrants who tried to break through the Greek border fence in Idomeni, on February 29, 2016. A temporary border closure and more restrictions at the end of February resulted in clashes between the disgruntled asylum seekers and Macedonian police.

A boy walks through a street near his home in Qayyarah, Iraq, on November 10, 2016, as an oil well burns nearby. Dozens of oil wells were set on fire as ISIS fighters retreated from the Iraqi Army in August, before the start of the Mosul offensive. Many civilians stayed in their homes during the fight to retake the town and remain there today despite the months of smoke clouds hanging over the town.

Men carry the body of Hatem Qureya, 15, after he was trapped under rubble following an airstrike in the neighbourhood of Bustan al Qasr in Aleppo, Syria, on August 6, 2012 which claimed at least eight lives including five children from the same family. Hatem later died en route to the field hospital. At least two people, including a child, were trapped under rubble, complicating rescue attempts.

Ahmed, 12, from Sheikh Fares neighbourhood, waits with his uncle, right, near the body of his father who was killed by a shell in the Sha'ar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria, on August 24, 2012. Ahmed, who saw his father die, was also injured in his back by shrapnel.

The Sudan Liberation Army led by Abdul Wahid (SLA-AW) climb towards the front lines in the last rebel-held territory in Central Darfur, Sudan, March 4, 2015.

Adam Abdel, age 7, was badly burned when a bomb was dropped by a Sudanese government’s Antonov plane on February 12, 2015. It landed next to his family’s home in Burgu, Central Darfur.

Palestinians collect religious books in the rubble of the Al-Qassam mosque in Nuseirat camp located in the middle of the Gaza Strip July 9, 2014.

Family members surround and pray over the bodies of Palestinian brothers Amir Mustafa Arief, 15, and Mohamed Arief, 12, during their funeral at a mosque in the Shejaiya neighbourhood of Gaza City, July 9, 2014. The two teens were killed together, near their home in Shejaiya, allegedly by an Israeli military drone strike.

A U.S. Marine of the 1st Division carries a mascot in his backpack for good luck as his unit pushes farther into the western section of Fallujah, Iraq, November 14, 2004.

An Afghan boy holds a toy gun as he enjoys a ride with others on a merry-go-round to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr festival, in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 20, 2009.

But Sinclair’s stand-out work is her 15-year long series, Too Young to Wed, that has taken her all over the world chronicling the stunting effects of young girls who are forced to marry too young, and the physical and emotional damage inflicted on child brides. Sinclair has visited many of the 50 countries where child marriage occurs and witnessed the ways the practice cuts short adolescence for almost 40,000 girls each day. The marriages force girls as young as nine into adult roles (including becoming pregnant) and isolates them from social interaction.

The judges found that Sinclair stood out not only for her deep and intimate portraits but for her willingness to return to scenes of horrific suffering and atrocity to capture images to help raise awareness around the world.

“Imagine the courage it takes day after day to listen to the stories of the horror young girls are experiencing,” says Elisa Lees Munoz, executive director of the International Women’s Media Foundation. “So it really is the courage to take this on as your life's work, and to listen to these stories and make them public.”

Two other photographers will be recognised with honourable mentions: Louisa Gouliamaki for compelling storytelling of the European refugee crisis, and Nicole Tung, whose work has given voice and visibility to civilians caught in conflict in Syria, Iraq, and Libya.

The response to Sinclair's child bride work has overwhelmed her. With her advocacy, she helped start an NGO to work and raise money to curtail the practice, and in 2012, she co-produced a documentary, Too Young to Wed. The organisation has since partnered with the United Nations Population Fund and other nonprofits to help prevent the narrowing of young girl’s lives and opportunities.

Hundreds of armed protesters clash with police near Kiev's central Independence Square on February 20, 2014.

The International Women’s Media Foundation grants the award each year in honour of Anja Niedringhaus, a German photojournalist who was killed in Afghanistan in 2014. Niedringhaus had won the Courage in Journalism award for her work in the middle east after the September 11 attacks. The award was renamed after her after she was fatally shot at a security checkpoint south of Kabul.

Sinclair only met Niedringhaus in passing in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor does she take the same approach as Niedringhaus toward illuminating injustice. Rather than work in the most dangerous war zones and areas of conflict, Sinclair’s approach has been to travel to—still very dangerous—places that are rarely seen to meet people who are rarely photographed.

An Israeli soldier jumps off an armoured vehicle carrying a flag of Israel's 60th anniversary as his unit celebrates its return from the Gaza Strip to the Israeli side of the border in January 2009.

With that approach comes a departure from the traditional journalistic act of simply observing. The award acknowledges Sinclair’s courage to morph into an advocate—a person who uses her camera to fight for justice, equality, and opportunity.

“Stephanie is not by any stretch of the imagination an objective photographer,” says Sarah Leen, Director of Photography for National Geographic. “She is a passionate person when she sees injustice, she gets angry and then she gets busy creating change."

Header Image: Ritu Saini (foreground), 21, and Rupa, 23, enjoy the monsoon rains atop a roof in Agra, India, in 2016. Both women are survivors of acid attacks. Hundreds of women and girls have been injured by acid in India. Ritu was attacked by her cousin when she was 15. PHOTOGRAPH BY STEPHANIE SINCLAIR

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