On March 5th, in honor of International Women’s Day, there was a call to action on behalf of women and girls – who comprise the most impoverished demographic around the globe. Discrimination, marginalization, exploitation, and disempowerment are at the root of the problem.
While women produce two-thirds of the world’s working hours, they only earn 10 per cent of the income. Two-thirds of the 876 million adults worldwide who are illiterate, are women. Expectant mothers die daily, from predominately preventable causes. Perhaps the most frightening fact is that at least one out of every three women and girls will be harshly beaten in her lifetime.
In an effort to rouse the global women’s empowerment movement by connecting supporters in developed nations with women and girls who are destitute, a team of organizations and presenting partners rallied around the documentary
“ A Powerful Noise,” showcased in a live event.
Executive Producer Sheila C. Johnson invited participation at 450 movie theatres around the country, where the film was screened. Simulcast at the end of the documentary, live from Hunter College in New York City, was a town hall discussion. The panel included: Madeline K. Albright, the first female Secretary of State in American history; Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO of CARE USA; Nicholas D. Kristof, advocating columnist for The New York Times; Christy Turlington, CARE’s Advocate for Maternal Health; Natalie Portman, actress and activist.
NCM Fathom and CARE presented the evening, in collaboration with ONE and the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. CARE has programs in close to 70 countries where women are the target. Their efforts are based on the premise that “equipped with the proper resources, women have the power to help whole families and entire communities escape poverty.” ONE has an online petition directing people to ask American leaders to allocate an additional one per cent of the national budget toward fighting global poverty. The UN Commission advocates for gender equality and women’s rights.
With a nod to the power of new media, NCM Fathom sponsored a Tweet-a-thon. During the four-day action, a Tweet message with the hash tag #apowerfulnoise racked up a 10 cent donation from NCM Fathom to CARE (with a 50,000 Tweet cap). Dan Diamond, vice-president of NCM Fathom, said via e-mail, “We chose to sponsor the recent Tweet-a-thon to raise awareness and funds for CARE by reaching out to an active, energized on-line community, making it easier for them join us as part of the movement showcased in our theatre event.”
There was a lot to Tweet about. The film interweaves the stories of three women who are each transforming the world through individual actions. One is changing the way that people think. The other two are building understanding and relationships, impelled by the pain of their personal experiences.
Jacqueline Dembele, “Madame Urbain,” is impacting the traditional mind set in Bamako, Mali. Through her organization, APAF, she is providing village girls who come to the city looking for work with an education, vocational skills, and job placement. She is forging a change in the perception about educating girls, as well as the outlook on the role of women in her nation’s society. The girls who are interviewed do not know their ages. Mali is one of the three poorest countries in the world. With an 80% illiteracy rate, Madam Urbain has maintained, “If you educate a woman, you educate a village and a nation.” She has also been active in the fight against female circumcision.
A survivor of the Bosnian War, Nada Markovic has created a women’s association, Maya Kravica, with the aim of ameliorating tensions between Serbs and Bosniaks (Muslims). During the conflict, 100,000 people were killed and 1 million were displaced. Markovic is working to help widowed women improve their economic status in an economy where unemployment is fifty per cent. To this end, Markovic has set up co-operatives with the goal of “Returning Trust through Agriculture.” She described a venture between thirteen Bosnian families and thirteen Serb families, noting that “nationalistic groups don’t support” these efforts.” However, as Markovic explained, with an economy in ruins, “women have the opportunity to choose.” The point is driven home with unsettling scenes of verdant landscape intercut with the excavation of mass graves.
HIV-positive Bui My Hanh has struggled to bring acceptance to those in North Vietnam, who have been ostracized by their families and society for their illness. Hanh, who lost a husband and 5-year-old daughter to AIDS, started a self-help support group for those struggling with the physical and emotional ramifications of HIV/AIDS. Immortal Flower provides health care, counseling, and education, while fighting the perception of the disease as “a social evil” because of its connection to drug use and prostitution. It started with a base of six people, and grew to 130 in one year’s time. Being shunned by neighbors and relatives prevents women from seeking testing and treatment. Hanh has built inroads against isolation and ignorance. “Community groups led by women tend to more effective and last longer,” she says.
The film begins with the Margaret Mead quote,
“It has been a woman’s task throughout history to go on believing in life where there was almost no hope.”
I spoke with director Tom Cappello by phone about his role in “A Powerful Noise.” “It was an important project that needed to be accomplished,” he said. He told me he had jumped at the chance to be involved because he was excited about the “creative opportunity to bring visibility to global poverty.” Discussing the difference between nameless statistics and a personal narrative, Cappello said, “Film is the best way to get people emotionally connected to a cause…to get a discussion started.” With the sellout attendance in theatres nationwide and follow-up panel discussion that outlined concrete ways to become engaged (Kiva and CARE’s national conference in May which organizes citizen engagement), Cappello referenced the event’s success as reaching a “critical mass.”
The documentary was fortunate to have philanthropist Sheila C. Johnson, whom Cappello characterizes as “the Al Gore of women’s empowerment,” on board as the Executive Director. Cappello believes there is an underestimation of “what audiences are looking for.” In “A Powerful Noise,” Cappello sees the “real characters and the right stories” as intrinsically intertwined with the significance of the message.” The film,” he added, “will be a lasting piece of activism.”
This article previously appeared at the website CultureID.