By Gina Olson
“Women hold up half the sky,” said Chinese leader, Mao Zedong.
On Feb. 13, Roanoke College’s Amnesty International club hosted a film screening of the documentary Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide at 7:00 p.m. in Massengill Auditorium. The group showed this film as a way of bringing awareness to violence against women.
Inspired by a book of the same title written by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, this film focuses on women in ten different countries, and the actions people can take to improve the conditions these women experience as part of their daily lives. For the on-campus viewing, the audience watched a segment on Somaliland. Though Somaliland proclaimed its independence, it is frequently overlooked, and people still confuse it with Somalia.
The Somaliland segment focused on the violent act of female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation or FGM. Edna Anda, who runs the Edna Anda Maternity Hospital in Somaliland, says, “regardless of the name people choose, this practice is what it is.”
Primarily, FGM continues as a practice because it has become a tradition believed to keep women’s sexual appetites under control. Girls between the ages of 5 and 8 years old often unknowing walk into a tent to have the procedure done. Adults who hear screams do not act against it because they have become accustomed to it. Contrary to expected benefits, when women who have undergone FGM give birth, the opening for the child to exit from is narrowed, so the birthing process becomes more painful. If the woman needs to have a C-section, her husband must approve of the action, even in an emergency situation.
At the beginning of this segment, the narrators stressed that their focus is on the “great moments” in different horrible situations. Despite the real and incredibly awful realities, Anda and her work at the hospital marks one of these “great” points. Anda trains young women as midwives and educates them about the possible health complications of FGM.
The documentary presents Anda as a “modern Mother Theresa”, and statistics continue to appeal to the audience. Among these statistics, in Somaliland, 1/12 of women will die of childbirth. In Africa alone (though FGM is practiced elsewhere) 3 million girls get this procedure. Anticipating some arguments, at the end of this segment WuDunn says that some people might view anti-FGM actions from Americans as an imposition of their “superior” culture, but she argues people can agree that some practices are inherently unjust.
After the film viewing, president of RC’s Amnesty International club, Michalla Braford, invited people to sign the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA).
“People can make a difference and it’s about getting involved,” said Braford, who expressed thanks for the support people have already given the Amnesty International club.
For those interested, more information about I-VAWA can be found on Amnesty International’s website, amnestyusa.org. To learn more about “Half the Sky”, please visit halftheskymovement.org.