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International Documentary Series

A WOMAN'S PLACE is structured as a series of four one-hour films each having a central theme:

  • Law and Justice (Episode Complete)
  • Politics and Power
  • Work and Money
  • Body and Soul
Each episode/film contains three story segments, each set in a different part of the world. The episodes ask a central question and each segment presents a different dimension of the theme area, exploring a different issue in each country, building towards a comprehensive understanding of the theme area. For instance, the episode on law asks: In order to transform society, which must change first-the law, or people's attitudes? The stories then examine the possibilities and limitations of law as a tool for social change via the issues of inheritance in South Africa, domestic violence in the USA and divorce in India. At the end, audiences see that there are no simple answers. Rather, change is a complex social process in which law is one of many factors.

These issues are explored through the life and work of a central subject, a woman working to change her own life and the lives of people in her community. We see her at home and at work, hear how she came to a certain personal epiphany, or devised a social strategy, in her voice and in her words. Through her story, the larger issues unfold and we trace the process of change- not merely the highlights-in different societies. Juxtaposed as the variety of ways in which these women are redefining social structures, the strategies present themselves as many aspects of a seminal global movement. Through this cross-cultural framework, A WOMAN'S PLACE works against cultural stereotyoes even as it overturns gender stereotypes.

Each episode is introduced by a witty, hyperkinetic animation sequence using stereotypical images of and proverbs about women across cultures and through time-a capsule of attitudes and notions that condition gender images. Variations of this animation sequence also link the segments to each other.

To retain cultural specificity, while maintaining connectedness and accessibility, A WOMAN'S PLACE is produced collaboratively by an international team of filmmakers. The format of the film is designed with a premium on clarity and easy use. It is a familiar, broadcast-friendly format that makes it easier for audiences to enter unfamiliar worlds and new viewpoints. It is also an extremely flexible format for use in classrooms and community settings. Each segment is self-contained and can be viewed separately if need be, but the three segments build on each other to create a multi-faceted understanding of the theme. Similarly, each hour-film is self-contained but the episodes do interlink to reveal not only how gender inequity exists in different arenas but also, how these situations overlap and interact to actually maintain and perpetuate these inequities. Working as a series, the four episodes of A WOMAN'S PLACE create a complex and comprehensive understanding of gender and power on a global scale, multiplying the effectiveness of the films.

The films are accompanied by an educational guide which expands on the issues in the film, provides more historical and political detail on the countries in the film and suggestions for classroom/community group use.


LAW AND JUSTICE (Episode Complete)

Can new laws change old ways?
Advocates for women's rights have frequently turned to the law in their efforts to bring about social change in favor of women. Even as these efforts have been successful, they have thrown up various important issues, for instance: How do you change the conditioning which has denied women equal status in society, in order to ensure that new laws are meaningful? How do you enact and implement new laws so that, even as they try to reform customs harmful to women, they are sensitive to people's cultural identities and religious sensibilities? How do you prevent too much state interference in private life, but ensure that the state is responsible for the safety and equality, the rights and dreams, that are necessary to this private life?

These are some of the questions that have been explored in the episode on Law and Custom as it examines the legal strategies of three extraordinary women in South Africa, the United States and India.
Ndita Tandaswa Ndita, a judge in rural South Africa, uses the new Constitution with its guarantee of equal rights for all to combat traditional laws declaring all women perpetual legal minors. Her partnership with community leaders and tribal chiefs slowly changes attitudes about women's right to inherit property.
Asmus Mary Asmus, a prosecutor in a small American town, looks for ways to pursue domestic violence cases which will hold perpetrators accountable while protecting victims. The law is not designed to take into account battered women's reality, but Mary's fresh approach helps her find the right loopholes.
Agnes Flavia Agnes fights the divorce cases of Veena, who had an arranged marriage, and Seema, who married for love. She takes these two women through a legal journey which empowers them, wins them their rights and helps them create a space in a society where divorce is a social stigma.

(This episode has been broadcast in the USA and South Africa. Almost 3,000 tapes have been distributed to grassroots groups and educational institutions. The text of the educational guide to accompany this episode is available on this website)



Can women in politics bring "power to the people"?
For people everywhere, politics is increasingly someone else's business. Instead of being regarded as a universal tool for social transformation, it has come to be seen as a clever play of subterfuge, power-mongering and corruption, where power over others is the only end. Abandoned through apathy and appropriated by realpolitik, politics itself is being drained of its power-to represent and realize people's true needs and aspirations.

Do women, as a political force, offer something that can reverse this cynicism and inspire hope? In overturning the assumptions of gender, can women dismantle the very foundations of power and challenge other hierarchies as well? Women are raising important political questions around the world: Is peace simply the absence of war? Which has higher priority-military security or the systemic insecurity of hunger, poverty and daily violence? Are these questions being heard?

This hour on power and politics brings out the curious anomalies of being a woman who holds power in a system created by, and essentially for, men. It looks at the potential of women to transform and be transformed by this political power-whether they advocate radical steps to represent women better, tread the middle line to change the system from within, or exercise power from outside the system as advocates of the people. We follow women who are using strategies to overthrow ingrained prejudices; to achieve power through politics; to redistribute power and to make politics meaningful for all.

Some of the countries we are researching stories in are: Zimbabwe, France, Nicaragua, the Czech Republic and Eritrea.

"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."
- Alice Walker, Author


Is it still work if you don't get paid money?
In their diverse struggles to gain equal access to resources women have come to a common realization. An economic system that structures the work day as though families were not a reality, values work only in terms of money, and measures progress through monetary profit is not likely to give them equity, nor buy them happiness.

Women are arguing for another way of looking at work by asking many questions about money. Why are women the largest percentage of the world's poor, the smallest number of CEOs and the owners of only 1% of the world's land? At home, women spend hours of each day in housework, caring and providing for families-for which they never get paid. At work they are clustered in professions which replicate their gender roles-teachers, nurses, domestic workers, sweatshop seamstresses-all professions that are among the lowest paid in any society. Women CEOs earn less than male CEOs-simply because they are women and assumed not to be "breadwinners." Yet, in many places, it is women who are responsible for feeding their families and women who compensate with their labor for the loss of family income in times of economic crises. Gender biases ensure that women's work is undervalued, and underpaid-if at all. Women are poor because large parts of the global economy not only exploit, but maintain these biases for their profit.

The episode on Work and Money profiles women who propose alternative economic models as they pose other critical questions: How are the much-acclaimed benefits of progress being distributed and who pays the greatest cost for them? What are the real needs of people and who will decide this? What is more important-cheaper and faster industrial production or a thriving natural environment? We go beyond the glass ceiling and the double shift to profile women whose strategies are shifting the paradigm of work-from making money to making a better life, from accumulating individual capital to building social capital, from recycling the caste system to affirming equal dignity of all labor.

Some of the countries in which we are researching stories for this episode are: Brazil, the USA, Ghana, Norway, Morocco, Mexico, Germany and the Phillipines.

"Whereas men may be asked to volunteer their time and energy for a specific cause or occasion, women are expected to volunteer their entire lives in the service of masculinist social orders."
-V.Spike Peterson and Anne Sisson Runyan, Global Gender Issues: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics


What makes free choice... free?
From birth, to childhood and adolescence, through their childbearing years, middle and old age, women are bombarded with messages: pop songs and proverbs, magazine quizzes and rituals, wedding dresses and advertisements tell women how they should act, what medicines they should take, how much they should weigh and which cooking oil makes them better mothers. The messages shift with political upheaval and economic change. Shaping their identities to conform to these changing notions, women relinquish control over that which is most personal to them-their bodies, their thoughts and their feelings. The messages of tradition and the demands of duty clash with the possibilities of change and the fear of isolation. Expected to be "feminine" but also "emancipated," torn between what they think and what they feel, women are caught in an emotional storm as they ricochet from role to role, appearance to appearance.

This episode, titled Body and Soul, journeys through the life of women on the cusp of looking for happiness and self-expression, looking for ways to transcend conditioned roles and redefine their relationships to self, family and society. It profiles women at different stages in their lives: some still making sense of a new found freedom and others asserting it in their art or dress or life choices. The episode explores how women sort through conflicting ideas to define what they really want, to control their bodies, to find an emotional life that fits, to express themselves-to articulate their aspirations and needs and to exercise choice in the undefined area known as personal freedom.

Some of the countries where we are researching stories for this episode are: Egypt, Nigeria, China, and Russia.

"What we can't imagine, we can't come to be." -Bell Hooks, Cultural Critic and Author

International Documentary Series
Comprehensive Distribution and Outreach Plan: Experiences with the Pilot Episode
Media Education Demonstration Project
Advisory Board
Educational Guide
Who We Are