Today’s post comes from Paula Kweskin, an attorney specializing in international humanitarian and human rights law. She has worked on various human rights projects including corporate social responsibilty and micro-credit initiatives in Argentina, advocacy on behalf of victims of extraordinary rendition, and relief for victims of domestic violence. Paula is currently pursuing her LL.M in International Law and Human Rights while producing Honor Diaries, an award-winning documentary film focused on women’s rights and gender empowerment. The film brings together nine activists fighting for gender equality and the human rights of women in honor-based societies.
Just a few months ago, I was in NYC, pounding the pavement, trying to get people to care about Honor Diaries. It hadn’t been long since nine of the world’s most daring women’s rights activists had come together in front of our cameras. These women – my newfound sisters in solidarity – have roots in honor-based societies around the world: Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan. They are committed to speak out about the harms women face in honor-based societies: female genital mutilation, honor violence and killings, forced and early marriage, and lack of access to education, among other threats. The emotion and gravity of what we were trying to do with our film weighed on me as I started our process of promoting the film.
I was looking for advice and support. This is my first documentary film, and I needed guidance. I graduated law school – not film school – and frankly, I was in search of people to tell me that I’m not crazy.
I took sips of a latte in a café as I nervously waited for my 2 o’clock, a well-seasoned documentary filmmaker and woman’s right activist. I hoped she’d love the project and would want to help in some way, even if just to reassure me that we were on the right track. I flipped and re-flipped through my notes.
About five minutes into our conversation she looked over her coffee mug with the slightest bit of scorn and a whole lot of sympathy: “Listen, Paula, it’s nice to meet you, and I’m sure your heart is in the right place, but please – do me and yourself a favor, and get out of this now. It’s not too late. You don’t have the budget, you don’t have a big name, and frankly, you’d be better off doing something else. Didn’t you say you were a lawyer? I mean, what do you really expect to happen with this film? What kind of difference can you really make? What have you said that hasn’t been said before? Probably nothing. And the market out here is so tight; unless you have a lot of money and a lot of connections behind you, no one is going to pay attention. I’m sure you’re a really nice person, and that’s why I’m being so direct with you. Don’t be offended, but you really don’t have a chance.”
I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. The flush crept up to my cheeks, but I tried to remain calm and professional. Still, I was shocked. This was the summer of Lean In and Malala: what happened to sisterhood and support? And where along the way had she become so jaded?
With a lump in my throat, I just kept talking about politics and books and womanhood. By the time our coffee had gone cold, her eyes had brightened – I could see the wheels were churning. She was excited by ‘Honor Diaries’ and maybe even started to believe it could make a difference.
Since that meeting, I’ve met hundreds of people in my effort to get people on board with our growing coalition. Honor Diaries is more than a movie, it’s a movement to affect change. We have over 25 human rights organizations as part of our coalition and we are planning thousands of screenings all over the world.
This week marks a big milestone in that effort. I’m thrilled to report that our film, Honor Diaries, premiered on US television DirecTV yesterday, December 5th at 8:00PM EST. There are several additional screenings that you can read more about here. And make sure to visit our website and get involved! Tune in and tell all your friends to do the same. I’ll bet you a cold cup of coffee you will never think the same way about women’s rights again.