The observance of an “International Day” theme was first made in 1950, “International Week” since 1978, “International Year” since 1959 and the first “International Decade” in 1961. Perhaps one of the most memorable decade observances was “The United Nations Decade for Woman," 1976 to 1985. The Decade ushered in an unprecedented visibility on women around the globe, and notably, African women, when in 1985 during the closing year, the conference was held in Nairobi, Kenya.
As early as the late 1970s, even while there were few African women filmmakers, their focus coincided with United Nations themes, and in many cases their films were commissioned and funded by international organizations. Kenyan Jane Murago-Munene's first production, The Tender One, was produced during the first United Nation’s International Year of the Child in 1979. It was this UN project that made her realize her interest in documentaries as they “give you a chance to tell things as they are and a chance to go deeper into issues than you would otherwise do”. Pioneer Safi Faye of Senegal directed Les ames au soleil (Souls Under the Sun). Produced by the United Nations in 1980, the film focuses on health and education. Selbe et tant d'autres (One and So Many Others) made in 1982, centers on the daily village experiences of Selbe, which are shared by many of her neighbors, as she is left to care for the household as her husband works in the city. The film was produced by UNICEF under the series title: "As Women See It". It is no coincidence that a surge of African women filmmakers is visible during this decade, many of the films focusing on issues relating to women.
This visibility continued into the 1990s. As with the three conferences on women held during the Women’s Decade, the high-profile Beijing +10, the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women and the parallel NGO forum attracted a large global gathering of women. Burkinabé filmmakers Martine Condé Ilboudo’s and Valérie Kaboré produced films focusing on the conference, Messages de femmes, messages pour Beijing and Voix unique...Pour Beijing, respectively.
In addition, one may note the impressive body of work by Burkinabé women highlighting diverse issues relating to women, children and current themes such as AIDS. Franceline Oubda was the 1992-1993 laureate of the Boerma Award for her television series, Women and Development, which called attention to the economic, social and cultural development problems from the perspective of rural women of Burkina Faso. The award was presented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Likewise, her film, Femmes de Yatanga explores the initiatives of the Association Six 'S' ("L'Association Six 'S'"), based in Burkina Faso. The Association Six 'S' in French illustrates the first letter of the words, all beginning with 's', which describes the objective of the group--savoir se servir de la saison sèche en savane au Sahel (to know how to make use of the dry season in the savanna of the Sahel). She had this to say about the film:
Burkinabe Valérie Kaboré received the Millennium Development Goal MDG3 Champion Torch in 2008 for her commitment to achieving gender equity. MDG3 is the acronym for the third Millennium Development Goal. The MDG3 Champion Torch initiative is an important part of Denmark’s Call to Action towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal as it relates to promoting gender equality and empowering women. Exemplary representatives of governments, the private sector, civil society, the media, individuals from North and South, and international organizations are recognized for their efforts toward the MDG3 and for their commitment to “doing something extra” in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Kaboré received the MDG3 Champion Torch for her successful television series “Ina” and her commitment to girls’ education. Similarly, during our 1997 interview, Valérie Kaboré talked about her series "Nâitre fille en Afrique" (To Be Born a Girl in Africa, 1993), which also focuses on girls and the importance of their education. Her comments highlight her ongoing commitment to girls' rights. She had this to say:
The observance day, “Street Children Day” on 26 November 2009, initiated by UNESCO, addresses the plight of the world’s street children, abandoned as orphans, victims of war or by poverty-stricken parents. The day marks the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a theme which has been explored in numerous African films. Tanzanian Flora M’mbugu-Schelling’s 1993 docu-drama Shida and Matatizo, commissioned by UNICEF, makes a harsh indictment on the Tanzanian government for not responding to the physical and sexual abuse of street children. Zara Mahamat Yacoub also focuses on the plight of children in her films, Les Enfants de la rue (Street Children, 1995), Les Enfants de la guerre (Children of War, 1996) and l'Enfance confisquée (Childhood Destroyed, 1999). During our interview in 1998, I asked her: "In the context of the theme of the 1997 edition of FESPACO, "Cinema, Childhood, and Youth," there are many films that are being shown that treat the subject of children in diverse situations. Your film, Les enfants de la rue, focused on the theme of children, as well as your most recent film Les enfants de la guerre. Why did you choose this subject?" She replied:
What moved me to address this problem in my film is the need to record this phenomenon. Because today when there is a war in a particular part of the world, all eyes are riveted on the country where it takes place. The whole world precipitates to this location; the press, the humanitarian organizations. The world is focused on this country, on the children and women who die. As soon as the war is over, there is not a word spoken about this place and the aftermath of the war. No one even attempts to find out what happened to the survivors.In a war, it's true there are the dead, but afterwards there are certainly those who escaped, who survived. But no one searches to know how those who remain are continuing to live. In my film, I bring out the trauma suffered by the children who were left on their own, who are still there living with family members, in orphanages or in the streets.
They continue to be haunted by images of the war. However, there is no one who stays behind in an attempt to care in some way or another for these children. These children, whether we admit it or not, are sick. They are sick from all that they have lived through during and after the war. Thus, the reason for my film, Les enfants de la guerre.
On 1 December, the United Nations observes World AIDS Day. It is worth noting filmmakers such as Burkinabé Fanta Nacro who has been at the forefront in using cinema to address the AIDS crisis in Africa, which include the documentary films, En parler ça aide (2002); Vivre positivement (2003) and Never Alone, A Call to Action, No Time to Drop Your Guard, From the Young People Against AIDS: Scenarios from Africa (2003-2004). Le Truc de Konate (Konate's Thing, 1998), a humorous short fiction film by Nacro was very popular with the audiences in Burkina Faso. The film blends traditional skepticism of new ideas, masculine virility and honor, and emerging female consciousness. On a more somber note Tsitsi Dangaremba's feature film Everyone's Child (1995) deals with the daunting consequences for the children who are left to fend for themselves when their parents die from the devastating affects of AIDS. Kenyan Wajuhi Kamau, who works in the Film Production Department of the Educational Media Service of the Minister of Education, emphasizes the effectiveness of video as a means of educating people about issues from AIDS to family planning. Using both the documentary and drama presentations, the objective of the Educational Media Service is to take the results to the people who then see themselves reflected in the images, "when you see yourself, you see your situation, then it is easy to remember and change attitudes and behavior." Zimbabwean Prudence Uriri focuses on issues related to AIDS and health in general. In her role as filmmaker, she sees the importance of opening a dialogue about the problems that people face so that they may be better informed of the situation.
Parts of this text have been extracted from "Visualizing Herstories: An Introduction to African Women Cinema Studies". Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema