This past weekend, I, along with a few of my fellow coders, had the opportunity to attend the Summit on Women in International Health and Development held at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. While the whole day was wonderful and insightful, the best presentation for me was that of Lisa Russell. She is a documentary film maker, focusing on making films about women’s issues in Africa. She showed her film, “Love, Labor, Loss” about obstetric fistula in Niger. The film was raw and brilliant. She didn’t make the women look like victims, rather they were real women with a very real disability but still could laugh, work, and build friendships. She filmed the documentary at the Niamey Hospital in the capital of Niger. There, they have a “home” of sorts for women with fistula to come and live together; while some women get repaired and go back to their villages, many are damaged to the a point that no intervention can help, and they are prone to stay within this little community for the rest of their lives. On the other hand though, they are the lucky ones. Many women with obstetric fistula live in isolation for the rest of their lives, and are not able to afford the journey to the capital in order to get a repair. Even then, repairs aren’t always performed because of lack of funds and trained medical professionals. A typical repair costs $300, yet so women are not able to afford that. There is also a severe lack of doctors in Niger; since there is scanty opportunities for medical training, many young people leave for medical training and end up settling in the West and never return to their country or villages.
Lisa also showcased the preview of her newest film, called “Not Yet Rain” dealing with the issue of unsafe abortion in Ethiopia. The government there passed in 2006 a very progressive law legalizing abortion and providing it free at the clinic level, since there were so many women dying of complications due to unsafe abortion. In places of the world where women have no control over their sexuality, it is a difficult situation for them when they get pregnant unwillingly (whether due to rape or any form of sexual coercion). Many women, and girls, seek out back-alley abortions or perform self abortions, and consequently, many die. The Ethiopian government recognized this problem, and passed a law to combat it. Unfortunately, the legalization of abortion is not yet recognized by many tribal leaders and is not practiced in many rural communities. “Not Yet Rain” is a film made in collaboration with a group called Ipas to try to build awareness of this issue. If you want more information, you can check out the trailer at the website and learn how to get involved: notyetrain.org
At the dinner table later that evening, we sat with Lisa and discussed her films. An interesting question was posed, and I would like to see your suggestions. The question is: if you had limited funds (say, $100 million) to improve the lives of women in the world, how would you spend it?