NOTE: This is a guest blog post by Cassandra Schaffa, the Director of Festival Operations at Women’s Voices Now.
As a Director at a startup not-for-profit organization focused on giving voice to women, I find that our projects are a tougher sell than those of a well established organization with a selling-this-many-products-feeds-that-many-people model. People are inclined to support and donate to causes with immediate and tangible results. We give for that fuzzy feeling we get when we know we just fed a starving child or made it possible for a woman to start her own business. But at Women’s Voices Now (WVN), our mission is more abstract: To give voice to the struggle for civil, economic and political rights. In seeking support for our cause, I am often faced with questions like: What does giving voice mean? Why is it important? How does one give voice? What kind of results does it produce?
In our first year, WVN is hosting Women’s Voices from the Muslim World: A Short-Film Festival giving voice to women of all faiths living in Muslim-majority countries and Muslim women living as minorities around the world. So there’s the how: giving voices by highlighting filmic stories by and/or about women, in this case, women of the Muslim world. The how is easy, but to explain why giving voice is important is a challenge. For this I find inspiration in Laila.
Laila and the Garbage Man (Dir. Kefaya Diab) is a short fiction film submitted to the WVN Festival from Amman, Jordan. In the film, Laila, a young school girl, feels invisible and unimportant. She has no friends, has no ambition in school and is hardly recognized by her teacher. In her world, she’d rather play dead than continue to go unnoticed. Until the day her garbage man took a moment to ask about her day.
That is all it took: One person letting Laila know she was noticed. One person who cared if she was sick, who asked how she was doing in school, who gave her a platform to be heard. With the garbage man always on her mind, Laila begins actively participating in school, engaging with her peers, and looking forward to each day. She does these things in order to have good news to share with her garbage man, and in turn, she reaps the benefits of having more confidence in herself, success in school and recognition from her teacher and peers.
This is one thing giving voice does: It encourages and supports those who think no one notices them, who don’t think they exist in the eyes of the world and thus can’t find much reason to act. Giving voice promotes productivity, communication and peace. It allows women to seek help and support, to be self-sufficient, to be leaders, to be their own heroines and to be the heroines of their community. These are the tangible results of giving women a voice.
Encouraging women in art, business, politics and school ensures a better future for everyone. Although Women’s Voices Now does not directly feed children or provide women with a business model (both amazing causes that WVN supports and works closely with), WVN is indirectly ensuring that these projects will be met and perpetuated by an informed world ready to accept women as heroines and change-makers instead of mere victims, and accept children as opportunity instead of merely hungry mouths to feed. In a nut shell, WVN’s platforms are providing a venue for a much needed dialogue. A dialogue that educates the world, inspires the individual and promotes the invaluable work being done by and for the women featured. By organizing the Festival, WVN is not only telling these women that we, as an organization, are listening, but through our on-line platform and the physical incarnation of the Festival at the Los Angeles Film School March 10-12, 2011, we’re allowing the whole world to listen, watch, discuss and contribute to the fight for global equality for women.
Women’s Voices Now is a registered 501c3 not-for-profit social enterprise. Their mission is to empower women and give voices to the struggle for civil, economic and political rights. In their first year, WVN is hosting Women’s Voices from the Muslim World: A Short-Film Festival giving voices to women of all faiths living in Muslim-majority countries and Muslim women living as minorities around the globe.
Cassandra Schaffa is the Director of Festival Operations at Women’s Voices Now. She holds a B.A. in Broadcast Communication and Spanish from Flagler College and a M.A. in Cinema Studies from New York University.
Photo courtesy of Damon Lynch