Not the numbers game

Posted: 10 October 2004

Like teenagers the world over, they're moaning about their parents. But here, in Kapchorwe - home of the Sabiny people in the remote eastern mountains of Uganda - the argument turns on what is, potentially, a matter of life and death. "A women who has been circumcised can milk a cow," proclaims one girl, "But a girl who has not been circumcised cannot milk a cow. Parents say that if you milk a cow, the cow will die." "They are just trying to harass you," retorts her classmate, Justine, "so you are forced into circumcision." In the end, they all agree, the practice will only stop when both their parents and the wider community in Kapchorwe can all agree it is harmful, and that abolishing circumcision is not a wholesale attack on their culture.

The teenagers' exchange takes place in a scene from Charlotte Metcalf and Irene Zikusoka's The Cutting Edge - one of six short films in the series Not the Numbers Game that TVE made to mark the second anniversary of the Cairo Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). The film explores the impact of the REACH Programme which has prompted a radical turnaround in the Sabiny people's previously entrenched attitude towards circumcision.

But while the Sabiny story is undoubtedly a success story, the international community still has far to go to live up to the challenges laid down in the ICPD Programme of Action. With Not the Numbers Game, we deliberately set out to look at progress - or lack of progress - on those challenges. We wanted to find out how the governments of six different countries - Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Uganda, Bosnia and Peru - were measuring up.

Inevitably, it was a pretty mixed picture. In India, Nupur Basu's thoughtful film looked at women's literacy campaigns in previously secluded Muslim enclaves of Kerala, at the effect of over 40,000 women being elected to the panchayats or local village councils and the increased coverage given to population issues by the Indian media. Together such changes are helping to empower women across the continent.

In Indonesia, Nam Achnas' film explored the effects of globalisation on women's lives. Do the new job opportunities opened up by multinational companies looking for cheap labour in the developing cities of Indonesia represent economic freedom for poor girls from rural areas - or just another kind of oppression and exploitation? Even in Bosnia, against the stark backdrop of the violations suffered by so many women during the four-year civil war, Nada Mehmed basic's emotional film recorded the extraordinary courage of three women who had fought to preserve their basic humanity and rebuild their family's lives.

But in another war-torn country, Cambodia - 'The Land of Widows' - the picture was darker. Poverty, lack of basic health services, and the extreme gender imbalance that exists after the genocide inflicted by the Khmer Rouge regime all add up to a desperate situation for many women. The result is that most mothers are single and - because of extreme poverty and the strains of multiple pregnancies - Cambodia has one of the highest maternal mortality figures in the world, with nine out of every 100 women dying in childbirth.

Our last film was set in Peru. We wanted to go behind the statistics and uncover the reasons for Peru's (and much of Latin America's) soaring teenage pregnancy rates. Ana Diaz Costa's harrowing film told the story of Janette, the eldest of six sisters born into a poor family in Lima. With no sex education at school and entirely ignorant of the facts of life, Janette was seduced by her 25-year old neighbour, Marco Antonio, at the age of 17; thrown out of her home by her parents, and left to bring up her baby Solange on her own. And that was only the beginning of her troubles.

The one light at the end of the tunnel in Janette's story was that the film-makers put her in touch with INPPARES, the Peruvian Family Planning Association, which provides health and information services for young people, to allow them to explore their own sexuality safely, happily and responsibly.

Reviewer: Jenny Richards

Not the Numbers Game is available, for broadcast or non-broadcast use, in English, French and Spanish from:TVE, 21 Elizabeth Street, Victoria, LONDON SW1W 9RP.
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