Abolitionism for the new millennium

Girl at New Light Crèche in Kolkata, India (photo by Joshua Bennett)

Girl at New Light Crèche in Kolkata, India (photo by Joshua Bennett)

The smash success of the much-lauded recent film 12 Years a Slave must surely have resulted in a whole lot of people walking out of theatres uncomfortably pondering the fact that human trafficking is by no means a 19th-century historical relic. The unspeakable cruelty depicted onscreen in that opus continues to be replicated around the globe today, with women most often the people being bought, sold and abused.

That’s the kind of ponder that can leave a well-meaning American feeling rather powerless and depressed, but it can also motivate people to find something that they can do in the real world to alleviate human suffering in some small-but-meaningful way. Amnesty International (AI) is one organization that effectively channels such energies, by such means as assigning volunteers a particular political prisoner on whose behalf one may write the occasional letter to the appropriate agency. Sometimes these campaigns succeed, and knowing that you’ve been a part of one can be rewarding.

There’s an active Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter of Amnesty International, and each year about this time it participates in an international observance called Human Rights Week. For the third year in a row, it will kick off the week of activism and consciousness-raising with a film screening at the Rosendale Theatre. The previous two years’ programs highlighted the chapter’s interest in the issues of immigrants’ rights and the seemingly endless detention without trial of terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay. This year, the local AI chapter is focusing its energies on passage in the US Congress of the International Violence against Women Act, and the film highlighting that theme to be screened during Human Rights Week will be Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

This documentary, produced in 2012 for the PBS television series Independent Lens, was inspired by the widely acclaimed 2009 book of the same name by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The film follows the book’s authors, along with celebrity advocates America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde, to ten countries: Cambodia, Kenya, India, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Liberia and the US. Stories of real-life women and girls in each country expose the blight caused by sex trafficking, forced prostitution, maternal mortality and gender-based violence. But this isn’t just a downbeat exposé of modern horrors; better health care, increased female education and economic empowerment through microfinance programs are among the solutions that are proving effective around the globe.

The print version of Half the Sky argues that the oppression of women worldwide is “the paramount moral challenge” of the present era, much as the fight against slavery was in the past. Washington Post book critic Carolyn See praised Half the Sky as “one of the most important books I have ever reviewed…a call to arms, a call for help, a call for contributions, but also a call for volunteers,” utilizing “exquisitely crafted prose and sensationally interesting material.” Presumably the Rosendale screening of the film version Tuesday, December 3 at 7:15 p.m., will also be accompanied by a call for volunteers, so allow yourself sufficient time at the end to dash off an indignant letter as part of the chapter’s ongoing “write-athon.” The onscreen presentation will certainly be followed by an audience discussion, led by AI policy and advocacy associate Julia Drost. Admission will be by suggested donation.

Human Rights Week in our neck of the woods will wind up with a benefit dance party on Friday, December 6 at the Rosendale Café, beginning at 8 p.m. Deejay Michael Wilcock, of Dave Leonard’s JTD Productions, will be spinning a mix of funk, soul, Top 40 and classic rock. Admission will cost a $10 donation at the door, 100 percent of which will go to the Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter of Amnesty International.

See – there is something that you can do about it! For more information about the various modes of activism against gender based-violence, sex trafficking and forced prostitution inspired by Half the Sky, visit www.halftheskymovement.org.

Human Rights Week Film Festival, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Tuesday, December 3, 7:15 p.m., pay-what-you-can donation, Rosendale Theatre, 408 Main Street, Rosendale; (845) 658-8989, https://rosendaletheatre.org. Human Rights Week dance party to benefit Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter of Amnesty International, Friday, December 6, 8 p.m., $10, Rosendale Café, 434 Main Street, Rosendale; (845) 658-9048, www.rosendalecafe.com.

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