In many parts of the world, to be a woman is to be treated like a dog with a bad master, beaten and treated with horrific inhumanity. While the problem is minuscule in comparison here, American women can find their human rights tromped upon, as well.
For six years the Women's Human Rights Film Series has brought this problem to light with thought-provoking films free to the public. Co-sponsored by The Friends of the St. Paul Public Library and The Advocates for Human Rights' Women's Human Rights Program, the series offers a total of six to eight films in the spring and fall.
"Our mission is to provide quality humanities programming in libraries that people don't have a chance to talk about in venues outside the classroom," said Alayne Hopkins, program coordinator for The Friends of the St. Paul Public Library.
"Audiences are diverse and average about 50 people, although there have been as many as 100 and as few as 10 at some screenings," said Cheryl Thomas, director of the Women's Human Rights Program. Because the subject matter is often intense, Human Rights Advocates lead discussions on the films following each screening, to provide context. "For me, it's hard," Thomas said. "The issue [of women's human rights violations] is so much less extreme here than in other parts of the world. There are 102 countries with no domestic violence laws."
Most of the films come from the organization, Women Make Movies, said Anna Donnelly, program associate for the Women's Human Rights Program. They are chosen to provide information "on a variety of women's rights issues and represent geographic variety," she said. Also, films underscore the issue that is taking top priority with The Advocates at the time, she added. For example, The Advocates is currently tackling the issue of sexual exploitation of children. The first film of 2011, screened Jan. 31, was "Playground," Libby Spears' investigation into sexual exploitation of children worldwide. "That one really is difficult to watch," Donnelly said. "That's why we would never show one of these films without someone there to help people digest what they've seen."
The second film, screened Feb. 22, is titled, "Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising's Image of Women." "At first blush, you might wonder what advertising has to do with women's rights violations, but it is uniquely American in its insidious assault," Thomas said. "Research shows that media portrayal of women leads to dehumanization" that in turn can lead to unhealthy self images, at best, domestic violence at worst. "Then there's the trend toward sexualization," Thomas said, "images of bondage, that shadow of a stalker. What messages are we sending our children?"
The last of the films in the 2010-2011 series, "Africa Rising," addresses the violation of girls in the form of female genital mutilation. Every day, 6,000 girls suffer the removal of or damage to healthy female genital tissue. There are no health benefits, and it reflects "deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, constituting an extreme form of discrimination against women," according to the World Health Organization. And because it is nearly always carried out on minors, it also constitutes violation of children's human rights. Long term, the practice can lead to recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, childbirth complications and infertility.
After screenings, the St. Paul Public Library often purchases the films for its collection. "Killing Us Softly 4" and "Africa Rising" will be available for check-out after their screenings.