Six films to watch on women’s rights issues
Huge strides have been made in women’s rights over the last century, however, women and girls around the world are still being denied basic human rights, facing sexism, sexual harassment and violence on a daily basis. In conflict settings, they are extremely vulnerable to food insecurity, sexual exploitation, trafficking and forced marriage.
Over the years, film-makers have sought to provide a window into the experiences of women and girls who suffer gender inequality. Although some of these films, such as Hidden Figures, do go mainstream, the majority get very little attention in the media.
We have put together a list of diverse films that highlight what it means to be a woman today in different parts of the world. The topics of these movies range from the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo to the representation of women in the mainstream media, and they serve as a reminder that that there is still a long road ahead to achieve equality of any sort for women and girls.
This critically acclaimed film follows the struggles faced by nine girls in developing countries on their journey to achieve an education. This is not a film in the traditional sense: the girls play themselves in scripted stories that are based on their own lives, and their voices are provided by actors, including Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Kerry Washington and Salma Hayek. Although the girls face several obstacles, including child marriage, early pregnancy, poverty, forced labour, trafficking and patriarchal cultural norms, the film focuses on their inner strength and hope for change. Moreover, the film raises awareness about the role that men – such as fathers, brothers and teachers – can play in empowering girls. This is a film that tackles difficult issues with an uplifting message: that the education of women and girls can transform their lives as well as benefit their families and communities.
Girl Rising is available to rent or purchase on YouTube.
Under the Shadow
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the rape statistics make shocking reading: at the height of the conflict in 2006-2007, 48 women were raped every hour. Women and girls are especially targeted because of their lower status in society. Rape is used as a weapon of war to destabilise civilian populations. Although there have been efforts to address this issue – in 2006, the DRC adopted a new constitution that recognises sexual violence as a crime against humanity – a culture of impunity allows perpetrators to escape. Masika Katsuva (1966-2016), a human rights activist and a survivor of sexual violence from the DRC, has helped more than 6000 rape survivors. Fiona Lloyd-Davies’s documentary tells the story of Katsuva and her efforts to help women seek justice and quality of life after sexual violence. It features interviews with soldiers as well as a trial that has the potential to change rape culture in the DRC. This film is a must-watch for those interested in women’s rights in conflict zones.
Under The Shadow is available to buy on DVD from the official website. To arrange for a community screening, please contact Fiona Lloyd-Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org
This documentary shows how the stereotypical and limiting portrayal of women in mainstream media has wider ramifications, contributing to the under-representation of women in positions of responsibility and power in the US. Featuring interviews with teenage girls, politicians, actors, journalists and academics, including Condoleezza Rice, Gloria Steinem and Oprah Winfrey, the film examines gendered stereotypes, as well as the ways in which the media tells women and girls that their worth is based on their beauty, youth and sexuality. The impact of such negative representations is enormous. About 65 per cent of American women and girls suffer from eating disorders. Furthermore, the number of cosmetic surgery procedures carried out on people aged 18 or younger has more than trebled between 1997 and 2007. This is an important film to watch for anyone interested in the effects of everyday sexism on women and girls.
Miss Representation is available on Netflix.
He Named Me Malala
Malala Yousafzai was just 11 years old when she began to blog anonymously on the BBC Urdu website about her life during the Taliban occupation of Swat Valley in 2008. In 2012, she was severely wounded by the Taliban for her human rights advocacy, especially for promoting education for girls in Swat. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. Inspired by her memoir I Am Malala, this inspirational film gives an insight into the daily life of an extraordinary girl: her close relationship with her father, with whom she co-founded the Malala Fund, and her life with her family in Birmingham post-recovery.
He Named Me Malala is available to rent or buy on Amazon.
Angelina Jolie’s award-winning film exposes the practice of telefa, the abduction of young girls for marriage in Ethiopia. Child marriage is a serious issue in Ethiopia where 41 per cent of girls are married off as children. This film, based on a true story, features the rape and abduction of Hirut, a 14-year-old girl who ends up accidentally killing her kidnapper in an attempt to escape. She is arrested and put on trial for murder. While seeking justice, Hirut and her lawyer, Meaza Ashenafi, the founder of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, face a culture clash between traditional beliefs and women’s rights. The film was initially banned in Ethiopia, but enjoyed a successful run after the ban was lifted. This film is a powerful reminder that women and girls in certain parts of the world still have to fight for basic human rights.
Difret is available to rent or purchase on Amazon.
It’s A Girl
Female infanticide is a major issue in countries like China and India, where there is a marked preference – across socio-economic classes – for male children. The UN estimates that about two million baby girls are lost every year to female infanticide and sex-selective abortion. Those girls who survive face further challenges: neglect, malnourishment, domestic violence, dowry-related deaths and so-called ‘honour’ killings. This compelling documentary explores the situation of the girl-child in China and India, and investigates why girls and women are disproportionately targeted in these two patriarchal societies. Although in recent years there have been efforts to improve the situation for girls with initiatives such as the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) campaign by the Indian government to ensure access to education for all girls and better enforcement of laws that prevent prenatal sex determination, It’s A Girl is an important reminder that there is still much work to be done to protect girls and women in these countries.
It’s a Girl is available on iTunes.