Amy Richards On Viceland’s ‘WOMAN’ with Gloria Steinem
August 11, 2016
‘Women for Change,’ is the empowering message expressed as the ending scene in Gloria Steinem’s new documentary trailer named simply as WOMAN. An eight-part series exploring the various atrocities endured by women in different parts of the world. Feature img: @soapboxinc
From the rape victims of Congo, who are often ostracised from their communities and families as a direct result of the sexual violence inflicted upon them by militia soldiers. To the socially accepted machismo culture in El Salvador that repeatedly subjects women to a lifetime of terrorised domestic violence resulting in the fatal death of many women. The ramification of such incidents is, of course, the lack of a good quality of life and wellbeing for the women.A fate commonly predetermined by default – solely because they are born female.
But even more alarming is the evidence outlining the decreasing number of women on earth in comparison to men. With female genital mutilation, underage childbirth – resulting in death, murder, poverty – due to a lack of education, sexually transmitted diseases contracted through rape, being among the reasons women are dying younger and in higher quantities than men. A fact that, not only has a direct impact on women but affects the functional aspects of societies in terms of wealth and economic stability. As Gloria declares, “the greatest indicator of the world’s stability, wealth and safety is the status of women.” “The wellbeing of women determines the wellbeing of society.”
“With female genital mutilation, underage childbirth – resulting in death, murder, poverty – due to a lack of education, sexually transmitted diseases contracted through rape, being among the reasons women are dying younger and in higher quantities than men.“
I have had the pleasure of asking activist, feminist and executive producer of WOMAN; Amy Richards a few questions about the issues outlined in the documentary and how people can help.
1. You recently travelled to Africa with Gloria Steinem. Can you provide some insight into the purpose of your trip and what you hoped to achieve by the end of your journey?
“I have travelled to Zambia 6 times, each time returning to some of the same communities. Gloria has been a handful of times, often visiting some of these same places and specifically has a fondness for the Lower Zambezi where she inspired a group of women to organise themselves into a local group called Waka Simba.It’s so powerful to witness incremental change and how issues overlap. For instance, one year a community might have a new midwife onsite and one year later the unintended birth rates have dropped.Additionally, being in Zambia, I have seen how issues are compounded. For instance, “educating girls” often is less about school fees and more about building roads and finding good teachers.
In the US I run a program called Feminist Camp where I try to show what feminism looks like in a contemporary setting. Last year I ran a Feminist Camp in Zambia for high school students and this year’s trip to Zambia was modelled in the same way. The goal was to ask big questions in a global context: what quality of lives do all women have access to? How can one make a dent in improving those circumstances?How does what we do in the US impact women around the world? What lessons can we learn from communities that are more isolated? How can we stop fearing Africa or labelling it a problem? To help answer those questions, I reached out to a few colleagues whom I knew would thrive on such a trip and from there extended an invitation to other friends and colleagues, including Gloria.”
2. Viceland’s new series WOMAN shines light on issues affecting women around the world. Equally as prominent, is the focus on individuals such as the late Congolese Masika Katsuva who actively work to eradicate these problems in their communities. How important is it to discuss women’s issues without presenting them as ‘victims’ but in positions of strength and tenacity?
“Using the term “victim” is too limiting to describe most of these women. Most are very intentionally victimised, precisely because of their strengths more than their weaknesses. Many cultures intentionally present women as weak in a deliberate attempt to disempower them. A woman’s weakness is often her source of power. With WOMAN, which I executive produced, the goal wasn’t to show women’s problems but to identify that assaults against women not only damage individual women but whole societies. Violence against women is a signifier that countries are themselves vulnerable.”
3. Gloria talks about there being fewer women in the world, due to the repercussions of various forms of violence. Such as female genital mutilation, rape and murder. How crucial is it for people to understand the true extent of such injustices and the impact they have on women’s well-being? Does society’s stability and wealth depend on it?
“The best example in my lifetime is the Taliban. Before 911, the only people paying attention to the Taliban were feminists (and a few random foreign policy experts), because the Taliban was denying rights to women – then 911 happened.What happens to women today has the potential to impact everyone tomorrow. There is no such thing as “a woman’s problem.” Conversely, in communities and countries where women have been strengthened, such as Sweden, the entire country can benefit.”
4. Culture seems to play a huge role in some of the problems raised in the series. From the rationalising of domestic violence in El Salvador to the acceptance of sexualised assaults on women in the US military and the shaming of rape victims internationally. Where do we begin, as a step to abolish such damaging behaviours?
“Culture is more often imposed on countries rather than being implemented from the ground up. Culture is used intentionally to keep people silent. But in most instances that culture is very new and thus not in the fabric of a country. The first step in abolishing these “cultural traditions” is to reject the idea that they are culture. Whose Culture? When? Why/Who benefits?”
5. How can people help and get involved?
“People have the most impact when they start locally. Also, they have to start with themselves, both in changing their own habits and in believing that change is possible.Each individual act might seem insignificant but as a collective whole, everyone doing something is better than a few people doing something big. Also, I think we need to use our expertise in the name of feminism.”
Amy Richards is a writer, activist, organiser, feminist and producer. As well as being the co-founder of Third Wave Foundation, Amy also runs Soapbox Inc. And has consulted on various documentaries such as; Gloria Steinem: In Her Own Words, MAKERS: Women Making America and execute produced, WOMAN with Gloria Steinem. She has appeared on various shows including Oprah and CNN to speak about feminism. Twitter