Today We Learn About: Child Brides!

On April 16, 2008 I attended a screening of the documentary film, “Child Brides: Stolen Lives.” Following the screening there was a question and answer/discussion with the creator and driving force behind the film, Maria Hinojosa. This event was the final event in the “Bearing Witness” lecture series at Mount Holyoke College, and the goal the film was to shine a light on the marriage of young girls around the world, namely in Niger, India, and Guatemala. The film shows us that the issue is a very complex one, encompassing many factors such as cultural practices, family expectations, economic struggles, and the honor of the communities. The discussion after the film went in depth about some of the issues at hand, namely the root of the problem, what is being done to fix it, and some insight into what was filmed, but left out, of the documentary. This event was very interesting and engaging, and I chose it because I felt that, although there are certainly problems on our own shores that need to be addressed, I wanted to learn more about what is happening overseas. I was given the opportunity to see practices and culture that I would not have otherwise been exposed to, and I feel that without experiencing what the world has to offer as far as viewpoints go, we really cannot formulate accurate solutions to problems. That is, we must know what is wrong before we can fix it. Through this experience I have learned that no problem facing women, or anyone in this world is simple. There are always intersections, whether it is race/religion, gender/religion, class/gender, or class/religion, which must be addressed and dealt with before a true solution can arise.

This event had a few main dominant themes that ran throughout the evening. The cultural aspect of the topic at hand was visited time and time again. In the nations covered in the film, women are married off very early, some as young as nine. It is a tradition to marry the children young, and send them to live with their spouse when they are sexually mature. Due to poor economic standing, however, many young girls are being married and sent off early in order to ease the financial burden of the bride’s family. This intersection of tradition and class has translated into a serious problem for young women. Many of these girls are sent away to be brides before their bodies are physically ready to bear children, and thus there are serious health issues involved. How are we to handle this intersection when both aspects are so complex? JeeYeun Lee speaks of the problems that encounter feminists when a matter of class is at hand, and identifies that this is a common problem as the current structure of capitalism inherently places certain individuals at the bottom of the ladder, so to speak. She contends that in order to address these issues we need to be aware of our own limitations, and address the issues we hold dear in any way we can. (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 48) This event did just that. There is no way that we can instantly solve these problems, but shining light on the hardships that face these women is a step in the right direction. To combat the horrible trend of child brides, the filmmakers reveal their plight, and educate the public about the steps that are being taken overseas to move in the direction of solving this problem. During the event this strategy was taken one step further.

Present at the event was a woman named Emily Bent, who works with an organization called Girls Learn International. Towards the end of the evening Emily stepped to the podium to talk to the audience about steps that can be taken on our shores to help with the crisis overseas. She spoke of letter writing, donations, and partnerships with schools in the area in question. This strategy of educating women reflected on a specific part of the film we saw that evening. In the film, a young girl is married at the age of eight, but her family decides to keep her with them until she sexually matures. At the age of nine she is sent off to a boarding school to gain an education. In this school, she is taught valuable job skills that will benefit her when she finally does go off to live with her husband. It is the hope of those providing the education that through a greater level of education comes a greater opportunity for employment. This hope is a reality, especially in thriving job markets like that of India, where the child is from. The trend of higher education/higher level of employment will not likely reverse in the near future, and gaining an education is especially important for those who are not wealthy. (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 343) The event supported this approach through the education of the audience on the issues at hand, education about what we can do to help, and through uplifting and motivational story telling.

As mentioned above, an intersectional approach was taken from the very outset of this event, although this was not outwardly expressed. Through the course of the evening we were faced with gender interacting with disability, class, and place within the dominant culture. At times, these interlocking systems of oppression seemed as though they would be present forever and overcome in only the most idealist circumstances. (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 569) The same was true of the film. The event brought in domestic examples of children being married young, thus showing that the problem is in fact international. The film and following discussion, although on a largely white, female college campus, addressed very well through their various themes and topics of conversation that feminist activism is not just meant for the purpose of “helping women climb the corporate ladder while ignoring cuts to welfare.” Through the incorporation of Girls Learn International and their reaching out to younger women of all backgrounds, they support the notion that “feminism has to recruit beyond college campuses” and they are taking steps to make this happen. (Daisy Hernández and Pandora L. Leong)

In particular, this event addressed the ostricization that occurs when a woman becomes disabled and is no longer able to bear children quite well. Often times when a girl is too young to give birth, yet becomes pregnant, she is faced with a very painful diagnosis particularly a fissure of the bladder. This causes the young girl to endure extreme pain and incontinence. In the case outlined in the documentary and discussion afterwards, the young girl from Niger would not go back to her village because of the treatment she knew she would receive. This example was very powerful for me. Not only was the young girl forced into marriage and child rearing, but because her society put her in this position too early she was also left with a lifetime of pain, disability, and shame. This shame will not only come from her community members, but also from her family. The impact that this has on the young girl was portrayed very well in the film, and in the discussion afterwards when asked about this young girl in particular, Maria Hinojosa was visibly shaken by the story. It was a very powerful account of what can happen to these women. It would have been better if the event addressed in more detail the pressures the young girls face from their families to get married early, and why this pressure exists. It was stated that there were serious economic reasons, but none were explained in detail. I felt that it was unfortunate that Maria Hinojosa was unable to do so, as it appeared that money was a major force in the child bride phenomenon.

This event was a very enjoyable experience. It was eye opening and revealed a lot about the situation in these countries and in the United States. For the most part all questions were answered thoroughly, and there was some very interesting interaction between the crowd and Maria Hinojosa. Events like this, and others that I have been to in the past have furthered my interest in the field of Women’s Studies, and given me the opportunity to examine events and circumstances through a new, more critical lens.

Works Cited

Hernández, Daisy, and Pandora L. Leong. “Feminism’s Future.” In These Times. 21 Apr. 2004. 22 Apr. 2008 <http://www.inthesetimes.com/comments.php?id=703_0_1_0_c&gt;.

Kirk, Gwyn, and Margo Okazawa-Rey. Women’s Lives: Multicultural Perspectives. 1998. 4th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2007.

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