5 documentaries about women that will truly change the way you see the world.

"Top 5 Films Every Reproductive Rights Advocate Should See"

By Lauren Himiak, Communications Manager, Women Deliver


Film is a powerful medium that can share untold stories with the world and inspire people to advocate for change.

Combining powerful visuals and emotional narrative is a form of storytelling that is becoming increasingly advantageous for those advocating for human rights.

Storytelling itself predates writing — from paintings on the walls of caves or textiles to more traditional forms, such as folk tales or fairy tales — and cultures have been sharing stories for centuries.

Today, more and more advocates are seeing the benefits and are turning to storytelling to share their work and increase awareness around a variety of issues, especially in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

It may be difficult to fully comprehend the harsh realities facing girls and women globally. Issues like child, early, and forced marriage; early childbearing; intimate partner and sexual violence; unsafe abortion; HIV infections; and harmful traditional practices, such as female genital cutting, are not only prevalent in some cultures, but still considered a societal norm.

Through storytelling, these issues can be put under a spotlight and shared with audiences all over the world.

From illegal abortions and preventable maternal deaths to firsthand accounts of girls on the brink of womanhood, we have selected the top films for those as passionate about SRHR as Women Deliver. More than a spotlight on important social justice issues, through these films audiences can connect to those on the ground working for change:

"I Am a Girl"

Directed by Rebecca Barry, co-founder of Media Stockade, "I Am a Girl" shares six distinct stories from around the world — Afghanistan, Australia, Cambodia, Cameroon, Papua New Guinea, and the United States — told by adolescent girls on the brink of womanhood.

Sharing cultural experiences and personal reflections, the film allows the audience a rare glimpse into real hardships girls are facing.

From Kimsey (Cambodia), who was forced to sell her virginity at the age of 12, to Aziza (Afghanistan) who will be shot if she goes to school, "I Am a Girl" presents the realities of coming of age in the way a culture dictates through remarkable stories of resilience, bravery, and humor.

“How wonderful it is to hear girls stories in their own voices talking about their hopes and dreams," said Barry in an interview with Women Deliver. “The more stories we hear from women and girls the more powerful we become. Storytelling is a way to share these stories and empower change. If we see and hear their stories we cannot ignore them."

The film has had a tremendous impact since its 2013 release, with worldwide film festival screenings and numerous award nominations. The critically acclaimed film has also served individuals and organizations who have screened the film as a fundraiser and community builder. As Barry points out, “Anyone can make an impact in the lives of girls." To do just that, look for a screening near you or host one in your community.

"Vessel"

As the title suggests, the film deals with a young doctor inspired to live at sea after learning the realities created by anti-abortion laws around the world.

Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, a physician from the Netherlands, felt compelled to start Women on Waves, a initiative to provide women who live in countries with restrictive abortion laws safe medical abortion services on a ship in offshore waters.

The film is a remarkable profile of the creation of an underground network of brave, informed activists who are working at the cutting edge of global reproductive rights and who trust and empower women to handle abortion themselves.

Showcasing not just victories, but also chronicling unsuccessful missions, "Vessel" is a film not just about abortion but also about activism. It raises provocative questions about the power of laws, how information is policed in the world, and the fight for bodily autonomy in an increasingly globalized world.

To find a screening of "Vessel" or host one in your community, click here.

"A Path Appears"

In 2009, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn — a best-selling author and business executive — published " Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide." The book, and later film, exposed the overlapping problems of sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality.

Even more ambitious, the couple's latest book, "A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity," and PBS series focuses on those working to make the world a better place and serves as a guide to the ways we can all do the same.

While the book discusses the art and science of giving, showcasing successful local and global initiatives, the series uncovers some of the harshest forms of gender-based violence and human rights violations in Colombia, Haiti, Kenya, and throughout the United States.

The three-part series features actor/advocates Mia Farrow, Jennifer Garner, Ashley Judd, Alfre Woodard, and others as they interact with those working to improve the lives of girls and women.

What makes "A Path Appears" so special is that it allows the audience to not only be inspired, but actually learn proven methods affective in social change. Stories are told by infectiously optimistic leaders who remind all working in SRHR that we can indeed transform the lives of girls and women and create a better world for all.

"Sister"

Anyone working in the field of sexual reproductive health and rights knows all too well the heartache, stress, and frustration that comes with the territory. There are 225 million women in developing countries who have an unmet need for modern family planning. These women lack something that most of us take for granted: the power to decide if and when to have children.

Fighting for their rights can be an uphill battle, and showcasing that beautifully is "Sister" — a film behind the statistics.

"Sister" shares stories of health workers from Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Haiti exploring how they find meaning while working under difficult circumstances: Goitom Berhane, an Ethiopian health officer in residency in a Masters of Surgery and Obstetrics Program at a rural hospital; Pum Mach, a rural midwife living and working within a heavily land mined area of Cambodia; and Madam Bwa, a Haitian midwife, fighting poverty herself, and working in an unstable, densely populated urban area.

The film is an intimate look at the global crisis of maternal and newborn death, a crisis in which 99% of these deaths occur in developing countries and the vast majority are preventable. Audiences feel as though they are sitting alongside these women, sometimes during some deeply personal moments.

Their stories give human experience and emotion to the global maternal and newborn mortality crisis. "Sister" also showcases some of the common barriers that pregnant women in poor countries too often face, including the lack of transport, no form of communication, and little education for pregnant women.

An honest documentary from beginning to end, "Sister" is a beautiful portrait of three women making a huge difference in the world — with no desire for thanks or attention — and gives us something to learn from.

"No Woman, No Cry"

After decades working as a model and activist, Christy Turlington Burns turned her attention to raising awareness about the maternal health conditions that impact millions of women around the world.

Burns partnered with Planned Parenthood in "No Woman, No Cry" to tell the powerful stories of at-risk pregnant women in four parts of the world, including a remote Maasai tribe in Tanzania, a slum in Bangladesh, a post-abortion care ward in Guatemala, and a prenatal clinic in the United States.

Over 289,000 women die from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications each year. That's 800 women per day. 99% of these deaths occur in developing countries where women face delays in seeking help, in reaching a health care facility, and in receiving appropriate care upon arrival.

As the films showcases, by investing in newborn and maternal health, we can save women and children's lives, strengthen health systems, and improve economies.

Burns, founder of Every Mother Counts, survived a potentially life-threatening complication after delivering her daughter and quickly decided to take action upon learning of the hundreds of thousands of girls and women who die annually from complications similar to hers.

The organization not only educates about maternal mortality, but allows those inspired to take action: you can donate an old cell phone to put technology in the hands of maternal health care workers, participate in a 5k or marathon to fundraise for grants selected by Every Mother Counts, or host a screening of "No Woman, No Cry."

***

These films are just a taste of the powerful stories being shared through film. From festivals to intimate screenings, film is shining a spotlight on critical issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights that affect girls and women. While this list will certainly inspire audiences, there is much work to be done. We can all play our part as advocates and thanks to mediums like film, we can create a global conversation around issues of gender-based violence and SRHR as a means of reaching the most disadvantaged girls and women.

Please share to spread the word for these beautiful films!

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."