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Fighting gender-based violence through films and documentaries: avant premiere of A Girl from Mogadishu

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nairobi Summit on ICPD25—The Family of Women Film Festival at the Nairobi Summit featured 11 feature-length and short-form documentaries and dramatic films on ICPD themes as well as interactive discussions featuring award-winning film makers, artists and musicians. The highlight was the avant premiere of A Girl from Mogadishu.

This is a full-length dramatic feature telling the extraordinary life story of global activist on female genital mutilation (FGM), Ifrah Ahmed.  The screening included opening remarks from Irish Consul General and Ambassador to Kenya, Fionnuala Quinlan, as well as a discussion with Ifrah Ahmed and film director, Mary McGuckian. 

Ms. Ahmed, who was present at the screening together with director Mary McGuckian, received a standing ovation. The founder of the Ifrah Foundation, she was overwhelmed by the response. As a result of the screening in Nairobi, Ifrah Ahmed has been invited to screenings of the film in both Somalia and Denmark. 

“I am happy to get such an incredible emotional response to the movie, which tells my story and the story of many girls and women in Somalia. We all need to collaborate to end FGM,” she said. Many girls continue to die from complications arising from FGM and this is unacceptable. “We all need to come together and work on protecting our girls.”

I am happy to get such an incredible emotional response to the movie, which tells my story and the story of many girls and women in Somalia.

Ms. Ahmed has become a global activist against FGM). She fled war-torn Somalia in 2006 and was trafficked to Ireland, where a traumatic medical examination when seeking asylum revealed the extent of her mutilation as a child. Traumatized by the memory, she channelled the experience into becoming a force for change and has emerged as a formidable campaigner against FGM at the highest political echelons.

“It’s really inspiring to see an activist like Ifrah working hard at the global end towards ending FGM. The movie is a ‘must watch’ for everyone, including policy makers, so that they pass punitive laws against this bad cultural practice,” she added.

The movie is a ‘must watch’ for everyone, including policy makers, so that they pass punitive laws against this bad cultural practice.

Compelling stories of women and girls

The festival films told compelling stories of women and girls who faced considerable challenges and overcame discrimination and gender-bias. The Cave, a feature-length documentary about the courageous work of Dr. Amani Ballour and her colleagues in a subterranean hospital in Syria, was introduced by UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador Boglarka Csosz.

The Eagle Huntress, introduced by UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador Maria Efrosinina, followed the story of 13-year-old Aisholopan as she trained to become the first female in 12 generations to be an eagle hunter in Mongolia.  Standing On Their Shoulders, an award winning documentary on female resistance movements in South Africa, was followed by a lively Q&A session with the film’s director, Xoliswa Sithole. 

Film Producer Sophie Harman described the role of the local Tanzanian community in the production and filming of Pili, a social-realist feature film focusing on women living with HIV in East Africa. An Academy Award-winning film, Saving Face, documented the work of plastic surgeon Dr. Mohammad Jawad in helping the victims of acid attacks in his home country of Pakistan and featured a Q&A with him about his transformative work and advocacy on GBV prevention.

The films were interspersed with interactive sessions featuring emerging artists and storytellers, including Ayanda Makayi, a musician and actor from MTV Shuga (South Africa), Charlotte Hill O’Neal, a poet and visual artist (Tanzania), Niyonsenga Pacifique, a visual artist (Rwanda), Poeta Dennis, a poet and founder of the Art East Hub (Kenya), Buddha Blaze, a music producer, founder of Nairobi Hip Hop (Kenya), and DJ Mix Master Lenny (Kenya).  Curated by Emmy-award winning filmmaker Lisa Russell, the interactive sessions and storytelling master class were lively and well attended. 

- Pilirani Semu-Banda and Sandy Pederson