Chicago Cultural Center’s screening of Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide was a huge success with over 300 people in attendance Naomi Walker, ITVS National Engagement Consultant, gives a rundown of the events as they unfolded in Chicago, IL.
On Saturday, September 15th at the Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago Community Cinema, WTTW Channel 11, and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events presented a special preview screening of Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The screening was followed by a discussion and Agents of Change Expo. Over 300 people came to witness, participate, take action, and commit themselves to becoming agents of change on issues facing women and children everywhere.
Kathy Im from MacArthur Foundation set the perfect tone, talking about the Foundation’s great work and how people can get involved in ways both big and small. K. Sujata, President of the Chicago Foundation for Women shared stories about the amazing women she met in her years at Apna Ghar, and how gratifying it is to be able to support the work of everyday heroines here in Chicago, people who are committed to being agents of change, much like Amie in Sierra Leone and Somaly in Cambodia.
After viewing the preview of Half the Sky, which showed Amie Kandeh fighting for victims of rape in Sierra Leone and Somaly Mam, offering young girls and women forced into the sex trade a chance at another life in Cambodia, the audience was eager to learn ways to get involved and to hear about people in Chicago who have taken that leap.
Jane Saks, director of the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women & Gender in Arts & Media discussed the power of witnessing the film together. While the documentary talked about rape and sex trafficking being “post-conflict” disasters, she pointed out the violent environment found in Chicago and worldwide. Jane kicked off the panel by asking the panelists to describe the anatomy of their work and how they started doing it.
Sheherazade Tillet, founder of A Long Walk Home, talked of learning about her mother’s rape when she was only 5 years old, and deciding to document her sister’s recovery process from a second rape. She said we must bear witness in order to lead the charge to change.
Serna Chen Low of Apna Ghar said that it is often hard to talk about culturally specific violence because people want to turn away. But Apna Ghar was founded by a group of brave women who had firsthand experience and wanted to help those who had no one to call and nowhere to turn. She reminded the audience that what we saw in the film is happening in their own backyard and will happen again tonight, that women and children will feel threatened.
Sheherazade added that gender-based violence is included in the wave of youth violence in Chicago. She said the city is affected in ways we don’t see. It takes so much energy and effort to heal from violence, imagine what women and children could do with that energy if they could focus it elsewhere. Surviving is not enough in terms of quality of life and to become productive citizens. The victims must thrive and to do that, they need support and understanding from everyone around them. As Jane put it, society’s growth is stunted.
Jane quoted the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Peace is not the absence of violence but the presence of justice”. She asked the panel to define what that goal means for each of them.
Rachel Durchslag got a huge ovation when she replied: “No one being for sale”.
Everyone went down to the Agents of Change Expo after the discussion. Within minutes the room was hopping with activity. There were young men and women recording video letters in one corner. Several people were testing out the new Women and Girls Lead card game, developed by Susana Ruiz of Take Action Games. There was a Commitment Wall where people could post the actions they plan to take in order to effect change. Attendees were going from table to table, learning what each organization was doing in Chicago.
The list of awe-inspiring organizations participating included: The Voices And Faces Project, Women And Girls Lead, Girls in the Game, International Organization for Adolescents, Mujeres Latinas En Accion, Sarah’s Inn, and CARE.
Overall, the event was a huge success- we are looking forward to the rest of the season!