How Movies Change Women and Girls – by Deborah Levine

The Independent Television Service (ITVS) enriches the cultural landscape with the voices and visions of underrepresented communities, and reflect the interests and concerns of a diverse society. ITVS supports a dynamic field of independent media makers whose programs creatively engage audiences, expand cultural awareness and catalyze civic participation. About seven years ago, filmmakers from around the world came to ITVS with incredible stories about women and girls. Rather than air one at a time, ITVS looked for a holistic approach. They created Women and Girls Lead, a multi-year initiative that includes multiple documentaries about women and girls. After launching the domestic initiative, the project targeted a global audience. With the combined expertise in international broadcasting, storytelling, and on-the-ground knowledge its partners: USAID, the Ford Foundation, and CARE, ITVS recently launched Women and Girls Lead Global.

Five “test cases” in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Jordan and Peru were used to catalyze conversations, encourage education, and boost efforts to reduce child marriage and gender based violence. Three major strategies emerged based on assessments of The Aspen Foundation. First, a succession of three film screenings with the same audience can be effective in moving people from understanding to individual action to collective action. Second, creating incentives through contests motivate people and institutions everywhere. Third, combine world-class documentary films, television partners, and local engagement campaigns to impact communities around the world by supporting ongoing NGO (non-governmental/nonprofit organizations) efforts to lift up women and girls.

The local “call to action” content, live events and social media combine to connect individuals, mobilize communities, and multiply NGO impact. The outcomes of these initiatives have meant a change in the role of women as this sample demonstrates:
• Child marriage rates in partner schools fell 20%
• Girls’ dropout rates in partner schools fell by up to 60%
• 80% increase in number of schools offering girls’ complaint boxes
• 29% increase in schools forming violence prevention committees
• Local companies donated $5000 in goods to schools to support girls

Tamara Gould, Senior Vice President of National Production and Strategic Partnerships at ITVS, describes some of WGLG’s innovative strategies. “Our on the ground teams relay that in the marginalized communities where WGLG works it’s quite rare for the role of women to be contested. However, the WGLG films and the conversations they stimulate are providing an entry point – often the first and only entry point – for communities to talk about the role of girls and women, and the ways in which they are being oppressed, devalued, or discriminated against. In some cases – in Bangladesh and India, for example – these conversations have led to some behavioral changes. Adolescent girls playing sports, for example; or taking on leadership roles at school. In general, WGLG partner communities have accepted shifts in gender roles happen much more readily when they’re proposed for young people. That said, it’s essential that an adult role model- e.g, a teacher, a sports coach – be part of the initial conversation where a change in gender roles is proposed, and that they bring the idea to the larger community.”

The participants in all five countries are extremely diverse. Tamara highlighted the demographics as follows:
• Peru: we work with indigenous populations in the Highlands and the Amazon basin.
• Bangladesh: we work with approximately 80% Muslim and 20% Hindu populations.
• Jordan: we work with the Bedouin, with Syrian refugees, and with Muslim and Christian Jordanians and Palestinians.
• Kenya: we work with the Maasai, the Mijikenda, the Swahili, and the Bantu tribes.
• India: we work in four states with participants who are farmers, auto rickshaw drivers, daily wage laborers, and domestic servants and the illiteracy rate can be as high as 90 percent.

In Jordan, WGLG works with transnational migrants and refugees living in camps and depressed neighborhoods via NGO partners JOHUD (the Jordanian Hashemite Fund) and CARE. The focus in Jordan is gender-based violence. Raising awareness about laws and resources available to survivors is particularly important to refugees, who, as newcomers to the country, are often unaware of laws that could protect them or services that could support them.

Tamara concludes by highlighting how rarely the traditional role of women is contested in these marginalized communities, as reported by WGLG ground teams relay. She notes that, “WGLG films and the conversations they stimulate are providing an entry point, often the first and only entry point, for communities to talk about the role of girls and women and the ways in which they are being oppressed, devalued, or discriminated against. In Bangladesh and India, these conversations led to adolescent girls playing sports and taking on leadership roles at school. In general, WGLG partner communities accept shifts in gender roles more readily when they’re proposed for young people.”

Essential to the process is an adult role model, such as a teacher or a sports coach. They must be part of the initial conversation. Trusted leaders and mentors can bring the idea of a change in gender roles to the larger community. This is how the technology of movies and television is impacting a community and a culture, while improving the quality of life for women.

Editor-in-Chief

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