I and the team just returned from filming in Tanzania and Uganda, where we experienced every filmmaker’s nightmare! The trip was a gold mine of amazing footage and stories. We had wrapped up filming on the last day in Kampala when our vehicle was robbed and all of my equipment, including the hard drives with all of the footage we captured during our two weeks in Africa was taken.
The irony is that I was watching the vehicle when it happened. The thieves parked on the opposite side of the Land Cruiser, broke the lock on the driver’s door and took the bags from the back through the side doors. The dark tint prevented us from knowing we were being robbed until too late.
On My Way to Africa!
Great news! I will be traveling to Africa in early April to spend a couple of weeks scouting some possible stories for the new film.
According to the World Health Organization, about 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of Female Genital Mutilation. In Africa, an estimated 101 million girls ten years old and above have suffered this brutal non-medical procedure believed to reduce a woman’s libido and ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity.
And 42% of marriages in Africa involve child brides, or girls under the age of 18. Child brides are the victims of cultural “norms” that turn a blind-eye to the unspeakable sexual exploitation and rape of little girls made legal through marriage. Neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers, these girls are at far greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, becoming infected with HIV/AIDS and suffering domestic violence. With little access to education and economic opportunities, they and their families are more likely to live in poverty.
I will have more for you about the developing stories in Africa after I return. To learn more about this exciting new project, click here.
Thanks again for you generous support and encouragement! I couldn’t do it without you!
I am so grateful for the thousands of you who joined us this year in fighting gendercide globally. Since the film was released last year, it has screened over 500 times globally, has been broadcast on television in India, Ireland, Nigeria, Poland, New Zealand, and reached thousands more through our DVD and iTunes release this year.
As we wrap up the year, we want to highlight some of the campaign’s greatest achievements that were made possible by YOU:
January 15 - Music Video Released: We announced the release of Omékongo Dibinga’s music video inspired by It’s a Girl! Omékongo’s video brought greater attention to the global issue of gendercide and still continues to make an impact!
March 8 – International Women’s Day: Eighteen groups around the globe brought respect to women and girls by celebrating International Women’s Day with a screening of It’s a Girl during this week!
March 4-9 – UN Commission on the Status of Women: It’s a Girl screened several times during the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) in New York! Governmental leaders around the world met for this event known as the primary policy-making body on the planet when it comes to gender equality and women’s rights. The theme this year was the elimination of violence against women and girls.
Widows throw flowers into the air during a holi celebration at the Meera Sahavagini ashram in Vrindavan in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Clouds of brightly colored powders and the fragrance of flowers filled the air as the people of India gathered in the streets to welcome yet another springtime to their country. But for the widows of Vrindavan, the 2013 Holi Festival signified the end of a bleak, centuries-long winter.
For generations, widows in India have suffered mistreatment and oppression. Up until the eighteenth century, it was commonly expected that a widow should burn herself to death on her husband’s funeral pyre. Today, this practice of sati is illegal, however in its place, thousands of widows are sentenced to a living death.
Through strict codes of dress and behavior, many widows find themselves dehumanized and ostracized from their communities. The rules are the same regardless of the widow’s age, and with the practice of child marriage still alive, many widows are quite young, even still in their childhoods. No longer considered a “her,” but an “it,” a widow is no longer allowed any personal display of feminine beauty. She must dress only in white, the color of mourning, and is not allowed to wear any adornment such as jewelry. She may even be required to shave her head. Considered a burden by her relatives and stigmatized in the community as bad luck, a widow is often abandoned by her family, shunned by society, and sentenced to a reclusive life of poverty.
New York Times reporter Celia Dugger reports from West Africa on progress in community-based efforts to eradicate female genital cutting.
“Men couldn’t hear the girl’s screams,” states Bassi Boiro, the elderly woman responsible for mutilating generations of young girls in Sare Harouna, Senegal. Describing the procedure performed under cover of darkness outside the boundaries of her West African village, Boiro explains that men “are not part of this.” Assisted by four women tasked with holding down the arms and legs of each frightened victim, Boiro used a knife passed down through her family and later razor blades to carry out the ancient cultural tradition of female genital mutilation (FGM). One such victim of this practice is Aissatou Kande, one of the estimated 140 million women and girls around the world living with the painful consequences of FGM. Africa is currently home to over two-thirds of the world’s victims of FGM, a custom which is also practiced in the Middle East and Asia and is increasing in Europe and North America as immigrants bring the tradition into their new homelands.
In a country where 47% of girls are forced into marriage before the age of eighteen, Savita Singh represents a new generation of Indian girls who are daring to dream of educational opportunities and even career pursuits before entering the responsibilities of wedlock.
Savita’s story, as shared on Too Young to Wed by Jennifer Abrahamson, Senior Director of Strategic Communications at ICRW, is a beautiful example of a new generation of girls in India who could help turn the tide on early marriage.
Despite being illegal, the centuries-old practice of child marriage still persists today in India where 40% of the world’s 60 million child brides reside. These young girls typically have little opportunity for education and have no choice as to whom they will marry or when. Once married, a child bride is restricted to laborious household and childcare duties and is very often subjected to violence and abuse from her husband and his family.
Today is a big day for me!
I never dreamed when I set out to make a feature length documentary in October of 2008 that the journey would be so difficult or so fulfilling. The landmarks along the way have become a permanent part of me; the first trip to India and filming the village woman who took the lives of her eight newborn daughters in her quest for a son; working along side amazing and talented people without whom It’s a Girl would never had been completed; the amazing response to the film and all of the unforgettable people and places I have experienced throughout the action and screening campaign.
It has truly been a privilege and I am grateful for every memory and for the significant impact we have been able to have together on behalf of millions of women throughout the world.
Today is a big day because it represents another big landmark along my journey. Today I launch my next film, carrying on in the spirit of It’s a Girl and continuing the battle for dignity and value for women all over the world.
I know I could not have accomplished all that It’s a Girl achieved without the dedication and action of each of you, and I know I will not be able to achieve this next challenge without your partnership. I invite you to continue on this journey with me, and together, tell the ongoing story of those who are suffering violence in silence around the world today.
It’s a Girl now available on iTunes and DVD!
It’s a Girl is now available on iTunes and DVD. Click here to find out how to order!
I was recently humbled and honored to learn that my TEDxGateway talk was featured in a blogging drive hosted by Franklin Templeton Investments, one of the key sponsors of TEDxGateway. Over 400 Indian bloggers participated in this online event, writing about various topics featured in the talks at TEDxGateway.
Dozens of posts were entered by bloggers who took on the issue of gendercide after watching my talk. I have read most of them, and have spent a significant amount of time processing through all I have learned from the amazing insights provided by these thoughtful and intelligent bloggers.