Editor's note: This article contains references to gender-based violence.
Movies are a powerful storytelling tool that can help shine a light on social issues, while opening our eyes to the lives and experiences of people around us, how our societies and cultures operate, and new ways of thinking and pursuing our lives.
They’re watched by practically everyone, be it via streaming platforms, TV, social media, or cinemas. From motion picture dramas to short films, sitcoms to romcoms, movies are a significant part of our everyday lives.
Movies can also amplify awareness on societal issues, using characters and plot to help us better understand and empathise with experiences that may not be our own. As just one example, after watching the Oscar-winning film A Girl in the River, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced he would change the law on so-called “honour killings”, according to the film director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.
But there are plenty of other movies too that work to highlight sexual and gender-based violence, amplifying the realities of the dangers that millions of women and girls face on a daily basis.
To mark the global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign — which starts on Nov. 25 and runs until Dec. 10 — we’ve put together a list of seven movies from Africa you can watch to learn more about gender-based violence.
‘Dry’ — Nigeria
Dry is a 2014 Nigerian drama directed by Stephanie Okereke-Linus and based on true life accounts, focusing on the impacts of child marriage. The film centers on the story of a 13-year-old girl, Halima (Zubaida Ibrahim Fagge), whose poor uneducated parents marry her off to Sani (Tijjani Faraga), a 60-year-old man who frequently rapes her in the so-called marriage.
Halima becomes pregnant and suffers Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF) after child delivery. She starts to experience continuous lack of voluntary control over her urination, and consequently, is abandoned by her husband and discriminated against in her community.
Zara (Stephanie Okereke), a medical doctor who had a similarly traumatic childhood, meets Halima and tries to help her and other young women and girls facing similar experiences.
The Ford Foundation-supported film was awarded Overall Best Movie at the 2016 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards. The wide global media coverage of the film is helping to drive important conversations about gender inequality in Nigeria and beyond.
‘October 1’ — Nigeria
The film October 1 by the Nigerian filmmaker Kunle Afolayan is an exceptional work of cinematographic expertise and creativity. The movie was set in the lead up to Nigerian independence, which came on Oct. 1, 1960. The film’s theme focuses on unraveling the story of the rapes and murders of women in Akote Town, in Ibadan, perpetrated by the only son of the Oba [King] of Akote Town.
The movie further explores the story of the prince, who himself was subject to sexual abuse at school, while amplifying the very real issue of perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence, particularly those in positions of power and authority, walking away unpunished.
‘A Girl from Mogadishu’ — Somalia
According to the movie’s director, Mary McGuckian, A Girl from Mogadishu is the story of how real-life social activist Ifrah Ahmed “came to understand, develop, and employ the most potent of campaign tools — her own true story — and use it to empowering and extraordinary effect.”
Fleeing war-torn Somalia in 2006, Ahmed (played in the movie by Aja Naomi King) is trafficked to Ireland where a traumatic medical examination when she seeks asylum reveals the extent of her genital mutilation as a child. Traumatised by the memory, she channels the experience into a force for change.
Ahmed is now one of the world's leading international activists against gender-based violence and female genital mutilation (FGM).
“A Girl From Mogadishu is based on my story — but it is also the story of the 200 million women and girls worldwide who have suffered the consequences of female genital mutilation,” said Ahmed. “And while the movie is intended to focus attention on the barbarity and scale of the practice, its ambition is also to empower all young women and girls to have the courage to stand up and speak out.”
The movie trailer ends with this powerful statement from King, as Ahmed: “Whether black or white, we are all women. Women who are entitled to the same human rights, no matter where we come from.”
‘Another War’ — Liberia
Produced in Liberia, Another War examines the critical issues around sexual gender-based violence (SGBV). The compelling documentary highlights the voices of rape survivors, frontline health workers, emerging women activists, Liberia’s chief prosecutor for sexual assault crimes, the Minister of Justice, and the Gender Ministry’s GBV Unit, among others.
Another War follows 20-year old-Liberian university student Kula Fofana on her journey as she seeks to explore the experiences and realities of victims of physical and sexual violence in Liberia, and to examine the beliefs and causes surrounding sexual and physical gender-based violence.
‘A Way to Justice: Engaging Men for Women’s Rights and Gender Transformation’ — Sierra Leone
Produced by Sonke Gender Justice Network and the MenEngage Alliance, this film and discussion guide was created to help raise awareness and spark discussions around violence and HIV/AIDS, and how the two relate to gender inequality. It also explores how best to engage men and boys in the fight against GBV.
The film explores the various war-related challenges, health problems and violence faced by both men and women across Sierra Leone. The film follows four powerful personal stories:
David Tamba, a Sierra Leonean who fled civil war, whose wife was gang-raped by rebels, and who spent a decade in refugee camps.
Pascal Akimana, who as an 11-year old Burundian child flees both his father’s and his country’s violence, only to find even more violence across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where soldiers beat him and rape his younger sister.
Jennifer Gatsi, a Botswana-Namibian woman who grows up with a father who beats her mother nightly, and is then forced to wed a violent husband who infects her and two small children with HIV.
Trevor Davies, a Zimbabwean photojournalist, whose career focus blinds him to the dire struggle of a son who dies of AIDS.
‘Our Voices Matter’ — Democratic Republic of Congo
For decades, the DRC has experienced war and widespread insecurity. Women and girls are the most affected in this instability, as with many crises. According to the NGO Mercy Corps, 1 in 10 women and girls in the DRC experienced sexual violence in 2016.
Our Voices Matter, a 2012 film co-produced by the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice and advocating against GBV, features women and girls from North Kivu, South Kivu, and Province Orientale who have experienced sexual violence and come forward to tell their stories.
The film is a call to action, demanding justice, medical and economic assistance, and the effective implementation of legislation to prevent and address sexual and gender-based violence.
‘We Are Dying Here’ — South Africa
South African rugby player Siya Kolisi is a well-known male voice in the effort against gender-based violence, with his advocacy being inspired by seeing firsthand how GBV affected women close to him, including his mom and aunt while he was growing up.
He and his wife, Rachel Smith-Kolisi, launched the Kolisi Foundation in April 2020, seeking to change the story of inequality in South Africa — including projects on food security, education, capacity building, and gender-based violence.
The couple are working to help raise GBV awareness at a community level, and give women and girls opportunities to speak out and share their stories.
In their efforts to shed more light on the prevailing GBV crisis, the power couple earlier this year produced a movie called We Are Dying Here. — an adaptation of a local stage production of the same name from dramatist and producer Siphokazi Jonas
According to the movie’s website, it tells the story of three soldiers in a war they didn’t choose. It “engages directly with the violent culture of harassment, abuse, rape and femicide, it is a necessary pause, an exhale and insight into the experience of living as a woman.”
Rachel Smith-Kolisi said; “One of the most beautiful results of this film is that it causes people to stop, think, and more so encourages men and women to have conversations.”
Siya added: “The narrative of the film also teaches you that gender-based violence doesn’t start with the violence, but the whole thought process. The film encompasses a lot of educational learning for us as men.”