The brave female voices at Zanzibar International Film Festival 2016

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From left, Nassra J. Mohammed who lobbied the government to have girls in Zanzibar allowed to play football as part of the education curriculum; Producer of Leeches Payal Sethi. The movie is about forced marriages in India; and Ikal Angelei in the documentary Sea Change. These women’s fight for justice is admirable and Zanzibar International Film Festival did a commendable job in shining a light on their works. PHOTOS | CAROLINE ULIWA 

By Caroline Uliwa

Posted  Saturday, August 6   2016 at  08:34

In Summary

  • The determination and resilience of four women to change either their situations or that of others is commendable. Their fight for justice is admirable and the Zanzibar International Film Festival did a commendable job in shining a light on their works.

This year’s Zanzibar International Film Festival featured films that tell the stories of brave women dealing with issues ranging from forced marriage to poaching. But the issues aside, it is the determination and resilience of these women to change either their situations or that of others that is commendable.

The films tell the stories of environmental attorney Thuli Brilliance Makama and social activists Ikal Angelei and Nassra J Mohammed. Then there is film director Payal Sethi, who tells a powerful story of forced marriages in Hyderabad, India in the short film Leeches. These women’s fight for justice is admirable and ZIFF did a commendable job in shining a light on their works.

Take for example the film Zanzibar Soccer Dreams, which tells the story of what is now Zanzibar’s national women’s football team.

The film is set on the island of Zanzibar where, against the backdrop of conservative Islamic culture, Feiruz Ally Amiri and Nassra J Mohammed decided to pursue football, a game they loved. Despite the religious leaders’ and society decreeing it a man’s game back in the 1980s, they formed an all-female team called Women’s Fighters FC.

Their defiance of societal norms for the love of the game piqued the interest of Florence Ayisi, a visiting professor from the UK, who is a native of Cameroon. She was moved by their story and shot a documentary titled Zanzibar Soccer Queens back in 2007. The documentary featured in a number of international film festivals, got rave reviews and landed the team an invite to Germany courtesy of the German national women’s team.

“What kept us going despite the social taboos and discrimination was our love for the game. It’s in our blood; when you love something, you stick with it. We have had successes with this game, we’ve travelled to many countries. For the young girls who love the game, I know there are many challenges and it is not easy to persuade parents to let go of their beliefs and let young women enjoy football. But what the parents need to realise is that football for girls isn’t a bad thing because when a teenager, boy or girl, participates in sport, they avoid getting caught up in street activities that waste their time or put their future in danger. They attend practice where they take part in a lot of physical training and are too exhausted to indulge in harmful habits as their minds are focused on the positive things in life,” said Feiruz Ally Amiri.

Zanzibar Soccer Dreams, which was screened at ZIFF, is a follow-up on this earlier documentary focusing on the efforts of Nassra J. Mohammed, who is the current head coach of the Tanzania national women’s team Twiga Stars.

Ms Mohammed lobbied the government of Zanzibar to include football training for girls, as part of the curriculum. It proved to be a long fight and she had been at it for over 20 years and finally in 2010, the Zanzibar government approved football training for girls as part of the curriculum.

“I was very happy because when the sport wasn’t formalised for girls in schools, there was no formal training for female sports teachers like me. Since it was formalised, we now have the chance to participate in coaching seminars,” said Mgeni Suleiman Abdallah, a football coach at Langoni Primary School in rural Zanzibar.

The British Council sponsored female teachers to attend the Women Leadership in Sports Dar seminar, and she has been teaching and coaching young girls for six years now. In that time, there has been considerable progress and so unlike in the footage of the film, the girls now wear tracksuits during field training.

The documentary shows an inter-school football tournament for girls, the first of its kind on the island, with parents in attendance to cheer on the girls.

It is heart-warming to see the journey of the girls and their teachers and it’s obvious that bigger things are in the offing, simply because of the humble and persistent efforts of Women Fighters FC and Nassra J Mohammed.

Sea Change

The construction of the controversial Gibe III Dam in Ethiopia on the Omo River, is the focus of the documentary Sea Change, which celebrates the persistence of one woman with an issue that affects the survival of communities.

Produced by John Antonelli, it is the story of a Ikal Angelei, from Turkana County in northern Kenya, a recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize 2012 and founder of Friends of Turkana a movement registered in 2009. The documentary follows Angelei’s efforts to protect the endangered ecosystem of the Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in the world.

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