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

These documentaries truly take you there.

"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!

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Inclusivity

Anyone who's done yard work on a hot day can tell you that it can be just as good of a workout as playing a team sport.

You're down on your knees pulling weeds, up on a ladder lopping off errant tree branches, and pushing a heavy lawnmower that never seems to start on the first try.

Unfortunately, because lawn work is so physically intense and not everyone can afford a gardner, the elderly and disabled sometimes have to let their lawns and backyards grow wild.

An alternative learning center in Dubuque, Iowa is helping its kids stay physically fit while helping out their community with a new program that gives them high school PE credit for doing yard work for the elderly and disabled.

The Alternative Learning Center is for high school juniors and seniors who are at risk of dropping out of school.
As part of the program, the teens visit homes of the elderly and disabled and help out by raking leaves, pulling weeds, cutting grass, and cleaning gutters.



Teacher Tim Hitzler created the program because it helps the students get involved in the community while helping those who need it most.

"The students aren't typically too excited at the beginning but once they get involved and start doing the yard work they become more motivated," Hitzler told KWWL. "What they really like is A: helping people. They really like giving back to people and meeting the person."

Nick Colsn, a 17-year-old student at the learning center, told NPR that the program allows him to meet people he wouldn't have otherwise. "I'm more of like go-to-school-go-to-work-home-repeat kind of guy," he said. "So to me, I probably would not have met any of these people."

The end-of-year program has been so successful, Hitzler hopes to expand it next year. "You know, in education, a lot of times, there's so many different gimmicks and curriculum packages you can buy and things like that," he told NPR. "And something like this all you need is a few garden tools. You know, I mean, it just makes sense. It's so simple. And it works."

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If you're a white supremacist, I imagine drinking beer (or any other alcoholic beverage) is a nice way to relax and tune out the fact that you're a terrible person who's helping set human progress back at a rate the bubonic plague would be proud of. But for some self-professed white supremacists, it wasn't quite so easy on a June weekend in Germany.

According to Newsweek, the hundreds of neo-nazis who flocked to the "Shield and Sword Festival" in Ostritz found themselves uncomfortably dry when a court imposed a liquor ban at their gathering of hateful bigots who also like to listen to awful music together. The ban's aim was to prevent any violence that might erupt (you know it would...) and the police confiscated more than a thousand gallons of alcohol from those attending the weekend-long event. They even posted pictures on Twitter of the alcohol they'd removed from participants.



But that's only half the story.

Residents of the town of Ostritz, who've had to deal with the bigots before (they threw the same festival last year on Hitler's birthday), knew that the ban wouldn't stop the festival-goers from trying to obtain more alcohol while in town. So the townspeople got together a week before the festival and devised a plan which would truly make the white supremacists focus on how terrible neo-nazi music is: They bought up the entire town's beer supply.

"We wanted to dry the Nazis out," Georg Salditt, a local activist, told reporters. "We thought, if an alcohol ban is coming, we'll empty the shelves at the Penny [supermarket]."

"For us it's important to send the message from Ostritz that there are people here who won't tolerate this, who say 'we have different values here, we're setting an example..." an unidentified local woman told ZDF Television.

At the same time the festival was going on, residents also staged two counter-protests and put on a "Peace Festival" to drive home the point that bigotry wasn't welcome. If the festival is held in the same town again next year, ticket-buyers should be aware that Ostritz isn't playing around when it says that white supremacists aren't welcome.

There's some good news, too: Aside from the fact that residents aren't afraid to send the message that they're intolerant of intolerance, attendance to the far-right music festival has drastically decreased in the past year. In 2018, 1,200 people attended, according to the BBC. This year? Approximately 500-600. Here's hoping the festival won't have a return engagement next year.

Culture

I sent both of my children on a bus on Tuesday. I knew where they were going.

The morning started rainy, buggy, and too early. To be fair, it always feels too early.

My husband and I waved from across the street as the buses pulled away, our kids, along with a hundred or so others, behind tinted glass. We waved like we were excited. Our son was likely not looking. Our daughter may have been, but she also could have not been paying attention until the bus started into motion. We won't know for sure if she saw us waving until she returns.

Returns.

Every day when I leave the house, I expect to return.

That's the default.

It's so much the default that realizing it is actually stunning. We run our lives as though anything else other than what's in our head, our routine, our privilege, is what will take place. There's that little truism that a worrier shines like a pebble in the hand: you're more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash. Yet we are much more likely to be worried about flying because it is out of our routine. Being out of your routine awakens you to the precariousness we completely shut out in our day-to-day lives.

I put my children on a bus. My oldest will be gone four weeks, my youngest, two.

What should be normal: sending your kids to sleep away camp. What feels wholly unnatural: sending your Jewish kids to a Jewish sleep away camp in the world we're living in now. Even writing those words: JEWISH SLEEP AWAY CAMP make my fingers seize at the knuckles. I don't want you to know there are such things as Jewish sleep away camps. Even having others know that they exist feels like a danger.

I'm used to my feelings and my instincts seeming like hyperbole to others. I'm emotional. I'm tuned in. I'm hyperreactive. I have a hair trigger. I have anxiety and depression.

I also come from a genetic and cultural history of people who ended up in this country because we were hunted and pursued and needed to escape. Over and over and over again. The cells that have come to build the tissues and structures of my body and my brain have been organized by UNSAFETY.

In "normal" suburban upper-class life, this can be a huge detriment. A handicap. It can manifest in the most unhelpful and frankly, startlingly blind ways. I've spent so much of my life reacting and feeling and then trying to understand what makes me tick. I've spent so much time learning to train and control and ignore and channel.

I wasn't made for easy times. I was made for survival. I was made, like an animal, to intuit danger and get the hell out, fast. I was made in the image of fight or flight. I do both better than most people. It's not something I brag about, because it doesn't feel like a good thing most of the time.

I put my kids on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp. Because when my husband and I got married (I'm Jewish, he's not), our pact was this: if our children live in a world where historically they could be targeted and threatened because of their Jewishness (regardless of their actual observance of religion or customs), they deserved to know that being a Jew is not negative. We should give them every opportunity to be proud and happy about their Jewishness. Their belonging should help them to feel good about themselves and the world. It should help them seek connection and understanding of the human condition. They should know songs. They should sing full-throated. They should feel comfort in our traditions when they are useful to them, but never feel threatened or unnecessarily constrained by them.

Research funded by Jewish institutions and communities suggests that the number one way to help ground kids in their Jewish identity is to send them to Jewish sleep away camp. It's the glue.

And yet.

I put my kids on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp at a time when our government is putting migrant children into concentration camps.

I bought all the supplies on the list. I washed and labeled and sorted and packed. I zipped up those bags to accompany my children. And then I dropped my children off and couldn't see if they were waving back as the buses drove away.

Of course, the camp I'm sending them to has a stellar reputation. Every day they post updates on a special web site, along with hundreds of pictures of the kids in action. I send emails to the kids which are printed out and given to them. I send packages with stickers and trading cards and all sorts of goofiness so that they know they are loved.

Migrants from central America have made their way to our border with just what they could carry. (My children's bags were so heavy that neither of them could carry them. Likely at least 1/4 of what I sent will come back unused or untouched.) Migrants are following the rules of asylum seeking. They are fleeing violence and intimidation and abuse far greater than I will allow myself to imagine. They are separated from their children by a government that has no business doing so.

I, an upper-class white woman, expect my voice to be heard. I expect to be able to vote and call and hold my elected officials accountable. I know what to say to get my point across. I've given money to candidates and I know how to threaten that support in the future. I also have the privilege of time and energy with which to do it. My underlying expectation is that there are very few problems that I don't have some redress for.

Asylum-seekers, in good faith, and following the rules, have nothing left to lose. They are coming here seeking something less life-threatening than what they're fleeing. They're seeking some good will. Or, at the very least, safety. Or relative safety.

I put my children on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp knowing that in my daughter's cabin of 8 girls, there are 4 young adult counselors who are there to make sure that she's safe, happy, and her needs are being met.

I also know that last year, an asshole white supremacist antisemite decided to go to a synagogue on shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, and turn it into a bloodbath. Well before that ever happened, well before the era of mass shootings and Columbine, Jewish institutions like synagogues and preschools and JCCs have needed extra surveillance. We've had police guard our religious services and social gatherings. Even (and perhaps especially) seeking out Jewish belonging, Jewish joy, has always been a reckoning with danger and threat.

After I sent my children on that bus—the one I knew where it was going—the one where I'd shoveled their overpacked duffle bags into the bowels of the bus—I came home to a house strewn with the remnants from packing. Laundry bins with unneeded t-shirts and shorts and single socks. The cat—he normally comes to greet me when he hears the garage door open—was nowhere to be seen. I called for him. He still did not come. I came upstairs and looked in my son's room. No cat. I looked in my daughter's room—with its orange and pink somewhat darkened by the rainy skies—and there he was, tucked into a furry circle in an eddy of her duvet. I laid down next to him and lost control. The control I never really had.

Twitter this week has erupted in a jagged back-and-forth between politicians and pundits and opinion-havers about whether or not it is appropriate to call the migrant detention centers run by ICE and our government "concentration camps." I, and most other Jews I follow and know, agree they should be called exactly what they are.

Non-Jews (and, to be fair, some Jews as well), like to tiptoe around the Holocaust and any words or imagery which may in any way encroach upon the historical accuracy or singular legacy of that horrible period. To a degree, I might agree when the comparisons are used flippantly or improperly.

But the legacy of the Holocaust, we are all reminded, is NEVER AGAIN. And NEVER AGAIN means that we don't wait until something worse happens. What's happening RIGHT NOW in the United States shares that DNA.

In the same way I understood or had an inkling in my bones that the election might go a way I didn't want it to, I know this same thing: we are not ok. This is not just the start. This is halfway down the road to the place where we lose not just perceived control, but real control. For all the current administration's lies and purposeful incapabilities, know this: the cruelty that comes out of the mouth of our president and those who continue to support him in the government and in the populace is not a lie. It is predictive. They're telling us in advance what they intend to do. And then they are doing it.

In a world where I still have the ability to put my daughter and son on a bus with all their toiletries and know that they will likely arrive at their destination, I also know that our government argued for the legal right to deny soap and toothbrushes to migrant children. When anyone's children are denied such basics—human basics—no one is safe.

I know it will sound like hyperbole. I know that those who so easily dismissed my concerns early on—before this administration even took office—will still attempt to dismiss my warnings now. But do so at your own peril.

I was not built for normal times. I was built for times like these. And I haven't been wrong yet.

This post originally appeared on Outside Voice. You can read it here.

Inclusivity