Every day, an estimated 37,000 girls are married off before they're 18 - that’s almost 14 million girls a year. As Vogue Italia reiterates: data leaves no room for doubt. In fact, one in three girls gets married before she is even able to correctly pronounce the word “wedding.”
While for some women marriage is an individual choice born of love, for others it can quickly become a forced reality that deprives them of the agency to achieve their dreams and realise their potential.
Difret, which means “courage” in Amharic, is a recent film that has brilliantly captured the cultural intricacies of child marriage by chronicling one of the most profound achievements in the struggle for the human rights of women and girls in Africa. The film tells the powerful, true story of a 14-year-old Ethiopian girl victim of the longstanding marriage-by-abduction tradition, and its success has projected global attention onto the issue of child marriage and the often violent conditions under which it can occur.
Produced by independent director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, Difret depicts how even the most deeply rooted cultural traditions have the capacity to be transformed from within. According to Ethiopian-born Julie Mehretu, an internationally acclaimed visual artist who sold one of her paintings to help finance the film, Difret is “essentially a story of homegrown Ethiopian heroism by two women who challenge the longstanding practice of forced child marriage.” It is an important story to be told, and also an example of bravery and the will necessary to affect change.
Although the abduction tradition of telefa is constitutionally illegal by Ethiopian law, it is still being practiced by over 50 percent of the country today. For this reason, it can be difficult for victims to voice their stories and be recognised under a largely patriarchal law system. Mehretu further suggests that, “there are endless barriers to getting stories like this one out into the world - intimate stories of African women and girls.”
This makes it all the more important to have supportive, strong voices to drive such stories forward. Firstly, with the help of an African filmmaker like Mehari, Difret’s story was able to be told from a local perspective within his home country of Ethiopia. Secondly, from her close involvement with the film, Mehretu knew that Difret needed its own global ambassador, and Angelina Jolie came to mind, because the film’s story could very easily have been the story of Jolie’s Ethiopian daughter.
Jolie was sent the film, and she was taken by its message. She graciously agreed to put her name on it as both a presenter and executive producer. Since gaining Jolie’s support, Difret has been included in numerous international film festivals, and even garnered the attention of the Obamas. After being mentioned in remarks by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the Difret petition to end child marriage has gained significant ground.
The international theatrical release of Difret has offered an unprecedented opportunity to spread global awareness about child marriage, while simultaneously developing a network of support for the necessary policy changes that will effectively help to end this human rights abuse by 2020.
Brides do Good will continue to support issue-driven films like Difret that powerfully connect viewers to the realities of human rights abuses and invite cultural conversations that can finally change deeply-rooted traditions for good. Have a look at the movie trailer.