Hold the tears, hear the tales of triumph

Documenting Change

Hold the tears, hear the tales of triumph

Roya is in great demand. As she braids the hair of her friend, several giggling girls stand in queue awaiting their chance to have their hair styled. However, it is not for any festivity that these girls bedeck themselves. They are preparing to play an international football match.

Girls playing football may not seem unusual. But for a country, where women were banned by the Taliban from seeking education, wearing makeup and tight clothing, playing sports and even laughing loudly, this is indeed remarkable.

The courage of women like Roya, the centre forward of Afghanistan’s first women’s national team, is documented in a film, Afghan Girls Can Kick. The film follows the journey of Roya and her young  teammates who used football to break the stereotypes of a fiercely conservative society.

It is not just in Afghanistan that women are breaking free of traditional social norms. Whether it is in Sri Lanka or India, women are coming out to be seen and heard.

Giving them a platform to narrate their stories is the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT), an international NGO that organises, among other events, an annual film festival showcasing positive changes in women’s lives.

“IAWRT believes that for the media to effect positive changes for women, women in the media must cover women’s issues and concerns. The objective of holding a documentary film festival is not just to utilise the professional skills of members to support women in developing countries but also contribute towards the enhancement of broadcasting by ensuring that women’s views and values are an integral part of programming,” says Jai Chandiram, managing trustee, IAWRT — India Chapter.

Chandiram says they chose ‘Breaking Boundaries, Shared Spaces’ as the theme for the Sixth Asian Women’s Festival held recently in New Delhi to bring in fresh voices into the debate for plurality, where spaces are filled with contention. The aim was to understand what public space signified for women and the challenges they faced.

“It is possible to focus attention on women’s concerns and understand it from their perspective as the same stories can be told in so many different ways. Many people are aware of the tribulations women face in Afghanistan. But instead of grim tales of repression, the same situation has been seen from a gender perspective. Oppression continues, yet women are breaking out of the stereotypical moulds and fighting against all odds. The film, Afghan Girls Can Kick, shows how women are triumphing over their situation using football,” says Chandiram, who is a former deputy director of Doordarshan.

She contends that in understanding these experiences, a new language and content of creative expression was being created. “I find that the discussions and films are creating a space for sharing, empowering and providing inspiration and strength,” she explains.

Sri Lankan filmmaker Anoma Rajakaruna echoes this sentiment. She says that although many societal traditions still bind women in Sri Lanka, they are inspired by the victories achieved by Indian women in breaking traditional constructs. In particular, she states that the Lankan gay community takes a lot of strength and hope from their counterparts in India and their campaign to get their rights.

“Homosexuality is considered a crime in my country. It has not been decriminalised as it has been done in India. Being a social activist who uses different mediums for social purposes, I documented the stories of these women to let a larger audience hear about their lives. Due to censorship in Sri Lanka the film, Our Story: Women Who Love Women, which gives a glimpse of the struggles of lesbian women, is unlikely to be screened in public. So IWART is a big platform to express my views and exchange ideas about how this can be used to lobby for change,” says Rajakaruna.

Tanko Bole Chhe (‘The Stitches Speak’) by film maker Nina Sabnani shows women whose determination and vision transcended the boundaries of caste and religion. It tells the stories of the partition between India and Pakistan through the experiences and voices of Kutchi women artisans now associated with the Kala Raksha, an NGO promoting women’s empowerment.

The film, through the testimonies of these women, weaves in the effort made by them to find their identities as women unfettered by caste and religion and form the Kala Raksha Trust and the School for Design. The film uses their narrative art of appliqué and embroidery through which they articulate their responses to life as a unique way of presenting the perspective of women.

Mrinal Pande, chairperson of India’s Prasar Bharati Board, spoke about how her mother and well-known Hindi writer Shivani’s stories were centred around the women she interacted with in the small hill town of Almora. These were also stories of change and articulated the break with societal traditions. “These stories are a constant source of inspiration to me even today,” Pande reveals.

Chandiram believes that the media can play a huge role in changing difficult realities. The growing popularity of documentary films among college audiences around the country demonstrates how inspiration can beget inspiration. It also shows how the media can be a true catalyst of change.

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