"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."

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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!

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

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There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

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