Will the New Male Hero Please Stand Up?

10947244_422563931240010_5132917642879937700_nWhen a 10 year-old girl in Haryana, India can see that her community is in need of more male heroes to protect the safety, livelihood and rights of women and girls, something must be done.

In October, “The Hero Project” – a campaign that aims to prevent gender-based violence in India by challenging harmful gender stereotypes – launched the #ChangetheStory Contest. Hundreds of rural communities in Pune and Beed and slum communities in Bombay and Delhi watched a series of three documentaries about various forms of violence against women, shared their thoughts about them in lively conversations, and were then challenged to develop their own solutions to gender-based violence. In January, four of the 190 participating communities were awarded $1000 in seed money to implement their projects. Among the winning ideas: a strategy for tackling the drug abuse that is provoking violence in boys and men, and a plan to develop a playground reserved for girls.

Now the campaign has developed an online companion contest with the goal of reaching a wider network. The digital version of #ChangetheStory asks netizens to share their ideas about what the new male hero should look like, in the form of a painting, poem, short film, short story, illustration or other form of art. To see some of the fantastically creative submissions “The Hero Project” has received, visit the Facebook page.

One of the most poignant submissions came from a ten-year-old girl, who submitted her version of the new male hero – a policeman who is committed to protecting the women in his community even when that means standing up to his superiors.

If a young girl understands that policemen need to be the catalysts for change, it is time for her vision to be brought to life. With new global initiatives such as the HeforShe movement, we are seeing more and more campaigns that bring men and women together. The movement to create a safer world for girls and women cannot be led exclusively by women. Everyone needs to help. If a 10 year-old can #ChangetheStory, why can’t you?

To submit your idea for the New Male Hero and win a mobile film projector that allows you to create your own movie theater wherever you go, please visit http://theheroproject.in/

A New Way of Seeing

After watching several films about girls and women overcoming injustice around the world, a group of youth in Jordan were presented with a challenge: produce a short film that tells a story about the gender discrimination in your community.

The contest, “Share Films . . . Share Change” aimed to deepen participants’ understanding of gender-based violence through engaging them in a creative process. Young people participating in the Women and Girls Lead Global campaign in Jordan were asked to combine knowledge they had acquired from the campaign’s documentary film screenings with phenomena they’ve experienced in their own lives. Working in groups, participants submitted ten films. Six films were then short-listed, shared and voted on via the Facebook page for “I Have a Story”, Women and Girls Lead Global’s campaign against gender-based violence in Jordan.

Meter x Meter (1)

Some of the stories shared in the films are based on true events, such as, “When Life Becomes Impossible”, about a woman’s suffering at the hands of an abusive husband. Another film, “The Inheritance”, addresses women being deprived of their inheritance, a common practice in some rural areas in Jordan. It wasn’t an easy film to make. Filmmaker Ahlam Al Zaideen began by doing off-camera interviews with her subjects – but once she turned the cameras on, all of the women refused to be interviewed, even if their identities were hidden. “They are not camera shy,” said Ahlam. “They don’t want people to know what their families did to them. They’re afraid of being stigmatized.” Ahlam herself was judged by her fellow villagers, who disapproved of her project. “They told my father that I was making trouble. But I’m lucky to have a father who is fair to all his children and he gave me his blessings.” Ahlam’s film, “The Inheritance”, was shared by many voters on Facebook, who called to put an end to this practice.

The winning film, “Meter x Meter”, is a poignant display of the many ways that girls are treated unfairly, starting with discrimination against girl babies and continuing on to the limits placed on girls’ freedom to study, work, and plan their own lives. “When a girl is born, the family feels a heavy burden because raising a girl requires their full attention and it’s stressful for them,” says filmmaker Hiba Al Nabulsi. “A girl’s life is not easy. She doesn’t get the opportunity to choose her studies, her career, and sometimes even her friends.”

Other films addressed harassment in public places and family violence against girls. All the films in the contest shared one important message: that women and girls are often not encouraged to share their suffering with others. Through bringing girls and women together to discuss their struggles, Women and Girls Lead Global hopes to encourage them to open up, and not to suffer in silence anymore.

Letters Leading to Evolution

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Thousands of young girls wrote passionate letters declaring their right to stay in school and out of child marriage to commemorate National Girl Child Day in Bangladesh this year.  The Youth Summit and Letter Festival – organized by Women and Girls Lead Global, National Girl Child Advocacy Forum and Youth Ending Hunger-Naogaon – called on girls to write open letters to their parents, telling them why they didn’t want to marry young.  Over 3,000 girls from 53 different schools in Bangladesh participated, sharing their desire for freedom and their disappointment that the law banning child marriage for girls under 16 is not being consistently upheld.

1908437_556346757831807_942182742305748554_n The letters were displayed on colorful banners at the festival, held in the Patnitala district in northwest Bangladesh. Thousands of people from surrounding communities flocked to the festival to read them, and to select 20 winning letters. The day also included a rally, a film screening and discussion, and cultural performances by the students. The entire day gave girls a rare opportunity to express themselves freely.

Read a few of the inspiring, award-winning letters

“Father, I always wanted to do something special for my family, relatives and of course for my country. To do so, I have to continue my education and earn a good result. I want to work hard to be an independent woman. Baba, you know if I fail to complete my education, I will never be able to fulfill my dream. Please let me complete my education first and then make the decision of marrying me off. I want to prove to myself that I am capable of getting a respectable job and serve my country as a good citizen. I need your blessings.”                         -Aasia Khatun, 10th grade, Patnitala high school

“In our country many girls die prematurely as a result of child marriage. And it is also responsible for family quarrels and fights. Unable to bear this, many girls commit suicide.”  – Nice Parvin, 9th grade Nazipur high school

1908437_556346751165141_7786221573802865235_n“Baba, You arrange my marriage, I am only thirteen! How could you forget about Ritu Apa, who died of giving birth a child at 16! It was you who concurred with other villages that nothing but immature age was the cause of her untimely demise. Please Baba, don’t make the same mistake like Ritu Apa’s parents.” – Sonia Khatun, 8th grade Khirsheen high school

“I will suffer both physically and mentally if you wed me off in this immature age. Please do not make me dependent on someone else. Let me finish my studies so I can be independent.” – Tomy Rani, 10th grade Paddapukur KMH high school

Signs of Change at Schools in Bangladesh

facilitating better schools

Schools are gradually becoming more girl-friendly in northwestern Bangladesh, thanks to the interventions of the Best Schools for Girls campaign. Last month, 18 Women and Girls Lead Global film facilitators in Naogaon province gathered for a two-day retreat  to share stories about the changes that schools in their area have implemented since the campaign officially launched in October 2013. Continue reading

Capturing the Essence of WGLG

For the past year, Women and Girls Lead Global has been screening films for communities of farmers, educators, politicians and schoolchildren across the five countries where we work – Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Peru and Jordan.  For many audience members, it’s the first time they’ve seen films about real girls and women triumphing over adversity.  It’s also often the first time they’ve had a chance to discuss issues like child marriage and public safety for girls and women.

Below, we’ve compiled some of our favorite audience responses from our first season of Women of the World films. Their comments suggest the very idea that inspired WGLG: that documentary film has the power to move, inspire and empower people, and to begin the process of catalyzing change.

Rickshaw Puller Becomes Role Model to Parents across Bangladesh

 

Most poor families in Bangladesh who marry off their daughters before they turn 18 – the legal age of marriage for girls – say that poverty forces them to make the choice. They can’t afford to keep their girls in school or otherwise provide for them, so they withdraw them from school and find a man who can care for them.  The result, for most girls who marry early, is more poverty, as well as higher rates of maternal and infant mortality, and increased susceptibility to violence and disease.

But what happens when a poor family makes a different choice – to keep its girls in school rather than marry them off? Continue reading

Salma

Internationally-acclaimed, multiple-award winning filmmaker Kim Longinotto (Rough Aunties, World Cinema Jury Prize in Documentary, Sundance 2009) returns with Salma — the extraordinary story of a woman who becomes the legendary activist, politician, poet, Salma.

For nine years, until she agreed to an arranged marriage, Salma was trapped first by her family and then again by her husband – physically locked away, unable to continue her education and forced to write her passionate words secretly. Only Salma’s anger and determination kept her focused on obtaining her freedom. When Salma’s visceral poems reached a publisher, their frank and open observations about her own sexuality, her forced marriage and her village’s customs made her an overnight sensation, much to the displeasure of her family and village. Pushed into running in an election as a village leader by her husband, Salma unexpectedly is elected and becomes the voice for women also imprisoned by the same fate. Her legendary refusal to follow traditional Muslim customs and her outspokenness about the treatment of village women secure her status as a true rebel in the face of an ancient and brutal tradition.

Crafted as a slowly unfolding detective story, Longinotto carefully peels past the layers of contradictions that define Salma — an engaged, contributing protagonist whose emerging voice loudly soars above the “knots and ties of love” used to imprison the female heart and soul.