Women and girls are the most impoverished, discriminated-against group in the world. Consider the following:
• Of the 1.3 billion people living in absolute poverty around the globe, 70 percent are women and girls.
• Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, yet earn only 10 percent of the income.
• Women produce half the world’s food, yet own only 1 percent of its land.
• Women make up two-thirds of the estimated 876 million adults worldwide who cannot read or write; and girls make up two-thirds of 77 million children not attending school.
History has shown time and time again that individuals who unite with a common cause empower themselves to effect change. A Powerful Noise has set out to unite women and initiate an end to the discrimination against women and girls in developing nations. Women in developing nations have very little access to resources, resulting in poverty and an inability to improve their lifestyle. Women’s empowerment offers an escape from extreme poverty and discrimination, and an avenue to equality and security. The major contributor to worldwide poverty is a limited access to resources and assets, and by changing the contexts of these women’s lifestyles to provide them greater access, they can lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Rather than treat women as “victims of poverty,” as organizations in the past would, A Powerful Noise is working to empower women by giving them a voice in their societies.
In 2000, the UN Millennium Summit promised to half extreme poverty by 2015. Given that the majority of those living in extreme poverty are women, this goal can only be met if the opportunities and resources available to them improve. A Powerful Noise is rallying support to help the women in developing nations lift themselves out of poverty, by providing help from the women in developed nations. To spread the word, A Powerful Noise has created a documentary that follows three women who are overcoming gender barriers to help others.
Hanh is a widow in Vietnam living with HIV. She started Immortal Flower, a self-help group that provides support, counseling, and medical care for those living with HIV/AIDS. In Vietnam, HIV is spreading at an alarming rate equal to, perhaps even worse than, countries in Africa most affected by the disease. Common assumptions in Vietnam are that HIV infects drug users and sex workers, both considered “social evils.” Because drug users and sex workers are “social evils,” speaking about sexual matters and the spread of HIV is considered taboo. The connotations associated with the disease prevent people from being tested and treated, because they fear discrimination. This lack of education on the disease and knowledge of testing and treatment is fostering the spread of HIV. In 2006, almost 260,000 people in Vietnam were living with HIV, and 13,000 people died of AIDS. At the current rate of spread, Vietnam is expected to have 1,000,000 cases by 2010. Hanh is working to promote awareness about HIV, in an effort to prevent the spread and help those living with the disease.
Nada is a mother and refugee of the Bosnian War. She started Maja Kravica, an association that helps “ease hostilities between Serbs and Bosniaks in a region marred by war crimes and massive destruction.” When Bosnian Serbs began attacking the Bosniak-led government in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992, a civil war that lasted three years engulfed Bosnia-Herzegovina. When the war ended in 1995, over 100,000 people had died. Though the war had ended the result was distrust and hatred among neighbors, which caused their economy to come to a halt. Today almost half of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s population is unemployed, and the GDP of the country has fallen below their level in 1990. Nada works to help end unemployment by providing opportunities for employment of war widows, and “fair trade markets for families to sell their crops and livestock.”
Jacqueline, also known as “Madame Urbain,” works to eliminate the forced labor practices of Mali. Education in Mali is supposedly compulsory and free until age 12, but students still have to pay for uniforms and supplies, and often are placed in overcrowded classrooms with untrained teachers. When considering the fees to attend school and the substandard education their children might receive, it is more economically beneficial for the children to work. The children often migrate to find work, and involuntarily end up with a life of servitude and exploitation. Because the female literacy rate is much lower than that of males, women are less able to handle “street life” and are more likely to be forced into domestic servitude. Although a number of laws to curb child labor are in place, the lack of enforcement subjects the girls to sexual harassment and abuse. Madame Urbain “stands up for the rights of powerless girls who are often abused in the workplace or on the streets of the big city. Her organization, APAF, provides girls a basic education, teaches them vocational skills and places them in safe jobs.”
The documentary follows these women, showing both the challenges they have faced in their societies due to gender constraints, and the victories they have achieved over poverty and oppression. The challenges they have faced in their everyday lives are representative of the larger problems felt by women around the world. A Powerful Noise represents the potential of all women to change their lives, and the world around them. If just 3 women can positively affect the lives of so many people, imagine what can be accomplished if the women of the developing nations unite: “the power of many,” “the impact of one voice,” can change the world.