Supporting Women Through Film

03/07/2017 05:40 pm ET

On March 8, 1908, more than 15,00 women marched in New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. We’ve come a long way since then, but women still face unique challenges, including violence and human trafficking.

Today, one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence, at least 200 million women have suffered female genital mutilation and 700 million women were married before they turned 18. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, a small Los Angeles-based nonprofit is promoting awareness of women’s rights in the hope of inspiring global activism. Women’s Voices Now (WVN) believes film can create real change in the attitudes toward women. In our society, the medium of film wields enormous power, regardless of language, culture, or the origin of the audience.

WVN’s fourth annual festival is now live online, a celebration of uncensored and unapologetic voices from feminists and their allies under the theme Invincible and Unsilenced: Women in the World. The festival features 36 films chosen from 86 submissions from 24 countries on five continents.

Among the films are Masoumeh, which tells the story of Masoumeh Atae, an Iranian woman attacked brutally by acid by her ex-husband’s father after their divorce. Despite severe burning and losing her sight, she tries to obtain the custody of her son.

The documentary Women of Fukushima recounts how six brave women fought a government cover-up and protested the poor handling of the clean-up following the nuclear plant disaster. Save Gangamaya tells the heartbreaking story of how one mother went on hunger strike in Nepal to demand justice for the murder of her son.

With a free online archive with over 200 international women’s rights films that can be viewed from anywhere in the world, WVN is effectively a “Netflix of feminist films” that has reached hundreds of thousands of online viewers in 192 countries. During WVN’s annual Online Film Festival, films selected from all over the world, appear for viewing and voting to anyone with Internet access.

“We see women of all colors and walks of life protecting themselves and their communities from the adverse economic, social, cultural, and political challenges humankind faces in the 21st century,” says Heidi Basch-Harod, executive director of WVN. “Witnessing these stories through the medium of film creates solidarity toward the common goals of women’s rights.”

Founded in 2010, the organization initially sought women’s voices from the Muslim community that were not getting mainstream media exposure, especially in the United States. The festival’s creators wanted to bring the unmediated voices of these women to international audiences that had a deep fascination with these women, their societies and their lives following the 9/11 attacks, the war in Iraq, and the Arab Spring. As the organization evolved, WVN became more inclusive to highlight the common struggles and triumphs of women all over the world.

Women worldwide are making unprecedented gains in fighting for equal access to education, political representation, economic opportunity, and basic civil rights. However, this monumental work is nowhere near finished, and those fighting for advances in women’s rights still need visibility and support for their efforts. A simple place to start is by viewing and voting in WVN’s fourth online festival.

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