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Storytelling for Gender Equality on International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is a day on which the global spotlight placed squarely on women. It’s a day to celebrate women’s accomplishments and to highlight issues around women’s rights and gender equity. But the issues around women’s rights and gender equity are so broad, it’s helpful to have a focus for the day each year.

This years’ theme, ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate progress’, coupled with the hashtag #InvestInWomen and it is a stark reminder that to truly address gender inequality, urgent action around women’s economic empowerment is needed.

It’s a commonly known, and in some places, seemingly acceptable fact, that worldwide, women’s access to finance is disproportionately low. According to the ‘Global Findex Database’ (2021), the financial inclusion of both women and men in Sub-Saharan Africa has increased significantly over the past decade, however, a surface-level search into access to banking reveals deeply concerning statistics.

The increase in bank enrolment, for example, has not been as rapid for women as for men, in fact, the gender gap in bank access has increased from 7% in 2011, up to 12% in 2021.

African women don’t just have these deplorable circumstances to contend with, they also face discriminatory laws and practices and have limited access to education, healthcare, skills development, food and running water – it is a matter of life and death.

For those of us who work to produce game changing content that helps young people and others make positive decisions about their health – our contribution to accelerating women’s progress lies in the power of storytelling.

Our latest offering is an exciting anthology of short films called ‘In Bloom’, part of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation’s mission of using storytelling to change lives, and Paramount’s ‘Content for Change’ initiative, that aims to integrate equity into the creative process, evolving storytelling through research and creating a storytelling culture that is more inclusive and accountable.

Focusing on gender equity, ‘In Bloom’ features five powerful productions written and directed by emerging women filmmakers from Nigeria, Kenya, India, Brazil, and the United States and all shot in South Africa. The series of films addresses a range of issues including period poverty, child marriage, gender-based violence, HIV self-stigma, family planning and women’s economic empowerment.

The beauty and inclusivity of these films doesn’t only lie in the impactful storytelling by women, but also in the languages they are available in. In Swahili and English, the psychological horror, written and directed by Voline Ogutu (Kenya), ‘Kifungo’ addresses the alarming statistics that adolescent girls and young women in Sub-Saharan Africa are three times more likely to contract HIV than their male counterparts (UNAIDS 2022).

It also addresses the issue of self-stigma that many people living with HIV and AIDS struggle with, hence the choice of the horror genre. In ‘Aféfé’, presented in Yoruba, Nigerian Pidgin and English, the drama written and directed by Dolapo LowlaDee Adeleke in Nigeria confronts viewers with a staggering statistic that women and girls worldwide dedicate 12.5 billion hours to unpaid care work every day (Oxfam 2020), often hampering their career ambitions.

The English comedy-drama ‘Period’, written and directed by Nicole Teeny (U.S.), highlights the plight of the estimated 500 million people globally who lack access to menstrual products (UNFPA 2023).

‘Alta’, written and directed by Priyanka Banerjee (India), and in Bengali sheds light on the plight of the 12 million girls married before the age of 18 annually (UNICEF 2023) and the Portuguese and English drama ‘Maré, written and directed by Giuliana Monteiro (Brazil), grapples with Brazil’s disturbing rise in femicide incidents, where nearly one woman is killed every six hours (AFP News 2022).

‘In Bloom’ prides itself on its gender-intentional crew, with 60% of all cast and crew identifying as females and all films were written and directed by women. This deliberate approach ensures that diverse voices are represented both on screen and behind the camera.

Best-selling author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once said during an interview to celebrate International Women’s Day with the UN Human Rights Office; “Changing the way women are treated globally should not simply be left in the hands of governments and policy makers. Popular culture becomes very important because it is a way to start to challenge people stereotypical ideals.

I think it’s important to have diverse stories of diverse women in diverse roles and to make that ordinary and to make that common so that we can start thinking differently about what is possible for women.” – a statement I am in vehement agreement with.

And each time I hear parts of Adichie’s famous TED talk ‘We should all be feminists’ in  Beyoncé’s song ‘Flawless’, I am not only reminded of her impeccable speech, but the sense of immortality that using creative genres gives to storytelling – in this case, helping to spread it to parts of the world that may have never heard it if it wasn’t for the charting song.

Television and film remain thought-provoking platforms essential for encouraging meaningful conversations. This content serves as a powerful tool for challenging stereotypes, challenging societal norms, and inspiring people to act towards a more equitable and inclusive society.

By showcasing diverse perspectives and lived experiences, such content promotes empathy, understanding, and awareness of social issues like gender inequality. It sparks conversations in households, communities, and policy circles, helping to drive collective action and advocacy for change.

 

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