APPEAR presents lives of women in Ethiopia at human rights film festival

20. December 2022
panel discussion at film screening
Within the framework of the film days “Wissen.Schafft.Entwicklung” as part of the cooperation with the established this human world - International Human Rights Film Festival, the doc-film Among Us Women was screened on 10 December at the Top Kino, Vienna.

After the screening film producer Sonja Kilbertus and APPEAR scholarship holder Simegn Kassa Alamirew from the Department of Development Research of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences discussed the film with the audience.

The documentary was shot in Megendi, a village in northern Ethiopia, where it often takes a long time for an ambulance to arrive, which is why many women take the risk of giving birth at home. This is also the case with Hulu. The film accompanies this young woman with empathy and without prejudice before and after the birth of her son. Between the health center’s efforts to educate more women about giving birth safely on their premises and Hulu’s intimate conversations with her midwife, the picture of a predicament emerges. At the same time, it is a portrait of women who stands with great strength in a world where they have few rights. On the periphery of the central conflict, the many challenges faced by mothers and midwives in a patriarchal social structure become clear. Among us women - በኛ በሴቶች መካከል brims with the resourcefulness of the women and impressively shows the complex support network they have built up over generations.

The discussion following the film brought two women with different perspectives and very different backgrounds together. The producer and Austrian born Sonja Kilbertus, in the eyes of the villagers of Megendi a ‘white’ woman, where she was warmly welcomed and the scientist and APPEAR doctoral candidate Simeign Kassa Alamirev, a lecturer at the university of Bahir Dhar. She talked about her experience as a foreign scholar in Austria and how difficult it was and is, outside the supportive and secure academic environment to live as a ‘black’ woman and raise two small kids alone. At the same time, her other two kids are in Ethiopia. War and the Covid-Pandemic were a psychically difficult time for her to concentrate and pursue her research. To find help in daily life was difficult since the Ethiopian community in Vienna is torn apart due to the bloody civil war in Tigray, an armed conflict that ended after two years with a recently signed peace treaty.

When it comes to education most girls and young women in Ethiopia don’t continue their school or studies, because they are needed to help their families at home. It is of course also a matter of financing. Life in rural Ethiopia is again very different from the cities for example in terms of living conditions, but foremost traditions such as child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation which are outlawed in Ethiopia but nevertheless practiced in different regions of the country. Maternity and health care are again challenging for rural women, as it is pointed out in the film.

Sonja Kilbertus, the producer made the film together with directors Sarah Noa Bozenhardt and Daniel Abathe Tilhuan, who both grew up in the village and decided to make a film about their village. “Together we fell in love with cinema and when we first played with the idea of initiating a film as co-directors, I felt the urge to honor the female spaces that make me feel at home in Ethiopia. Daniel on the other hand wanted to pay tribute to his roots in the countryside. So, when we traveled to visit his birth parents in his village of Megendi, and we met the traditional midwife Endal, I sensed a cinematic setting that could symbolize and capture the energy and symbiosis we were looking for.”

The film points out the dominant male power structure within a patriarchal society and the discrimination against girls and women, but it is at the same time created to “honor female spaces and pay tribute to the countryside.” The main character in the film Hulu explains her motivation to join the documentary as follows “I chose to share my secrets in the filmmaking process because I am proud of my choices and myself. I want to tell my story and my secrets too. I have spoken to my family after the film shooting and they are supporting me. I am safe.”  

It was already the 6th time that the team of APPEAR – the Austrian Development Cooperation’s higher education cooperation programme at the OeAD, funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation –invited to the annual film screenings on topics of global challenges with scientific orientations of development research. With the film and discussion format, the APPEAR team at the OeAD wants to make development policy and development research accessible to a broad public.


This human world – international human rights film festival