South Africans direct Al Jazeera documentaries about how empowering women boosts economies

Launched last Saturday, 26 September, Women Make Change is a new series from Al Jazeera showcasing women who have started impactful local projects in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Papua New Guinea. Focusing on areas as diverse as water, agriculture, family planning and sport, their work shows that investing in women is indeed smart economic sense. Former Nigerian media personality of the year Femi Oke hosts the new series.

When the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit met from 25 to 27 September, they discussed the progress made in the 20 years since the Beijing Declaration of women’s rights. This series shows the human story behind those debates and profiles some of the work being done to reduce poverty.

“At a time when the world is debating gender equality and sustainable development goals, we wanted to hear first-hand from women who are already making significant changes in their communities,” says Ingrid Falck, Al Jazeera English’s head of documentaries. “We interrogated the latest research findings to see how the ripple of impact can work. The combination of impressive, authoritative women who live with these issues in the real world, together with integrated graphics, paints a thought-provoking picture.”

South African Karin Slater, directed the first film, The Water Women, traveling to Kenya to talk to Rose Atieno and Catherine Ondele. These women have been instrumental in training local women to build rainwater harvesting tanks to villages which had been without clean water. 43% of rural Kenyans are without clean water, essential to combat preventable diseases. Since they built the tank in one village, they have not had a single case of cholera. It’s also been transformative for a nearby health centre, which can now offer a range of new services.

The benefits go even deeper though. There are reduced attacks on women, who no longer have to travel long distances to the communal well. Each woman saves almost six hours a week, which is now time she can spend working or studying. And there’s a direct financial benefit to the community, which sells the water on to the water company and invests the money in starting new businesses.

Scorecard Rwanda highlights the benefits of sport for Rwandan women, whose families and communities were in desperate need of healing post- genocide. The women initially faced resistance from the men in their community when Felicite Rwemalika came to enlist them in a local football team, but there have been clear and long-lasting advantages from involving women in team sports. In addition to the health benefits, sport has given the women a space to meet and talk. For many, they’ve expanded their ideas into new businesses, resulting in farming cooperatives and community restaurants. The project has also helped girls stay in school and built confidence and aspirations. “You can be future leaders,” Grace Nyinawumuntu says. “Don’t just think of being a coach like me or Felicite. You can be Minister of Sport and help your country.”

Education is taken for granted by many of us, but having access to this basic right is still a challenge for many. Directed by South African Brian Tilley, Going Places focuses on Zainab Andan and Dolores Dickson, two women in Ghana who are working hard to make sure that girls, in particular, are given the opportunity to go to school. Zainab benefited from a bursary awarded by an international charity, Camfed, and now she is part of an alumni group that works in communities to help girls in her former school. Her community work also takes her to neighbouring villages, where she can share her skills by holding financial literacy workshops. Dolores Dickson, director of the charity, oversees training workshops for local projects. One of those which started out small is a shea butter processing project that now supplies a range of outlets, including The Body Shop.

Watch the video of Femi Oke talking about women as a force for change.