In-Visibles: Women helping Invisible women become Visible

Making invisible women visible, the 30-minute documentary film In-Visibles premieres during the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations General Assembly in Rome, on Saturday, 13 May.

By Sr Bernadette M. Reis, fsp

What do Eya Hegnon (Dressmaker), Agnes Sokpo (Reflexologist), Benedicta Sokpo (Psychologist), Christine Numetu (Pastry Chef), Rebecca Ama Agboli (Pastry Chef), Mamatou Akpo Sotondji (Shopkeeper), Dorcas Fleur Kpodo (Orphanage Founder), Noeline Ezan Akossiwa (Student Hairdresser), and so many other women in Africa have in common? The experience of abandonment, violence, loneliness, unemployment. Were it not for the Sisters of Providence, of Mary Mother of the Church, and women religious belonging to other Institutes, they would still be abandoned, lonely, unemployed. They are the invisible women the 30-minute documentary film In-Visibles wants to make visible.

Poster for the 30-minute Documentary In-Visibles
Poster for the 30-minute Documentary In-Visibles

In-Visibles will be seen for the first time on Saturday morning in Rome, during the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations(WUKWO) General Assembly in Rome. WUCWO President and World Women’s Observatory (WWO) Director María Lía Zervino told Vatican News that In-Visibles seeks to accomplish the World Women’s Observatory’s (WWO) mission of “giving visibility to women who are invisible, who are submerged in the ocean of what the Pope calls the ‘globalization of indifference.’ And we want to give Sisters’ work visibility.”

WUCWO decided the best way to “raise awareness about what women are suffering in Africa because of gender violence” was to make a film on site, María Lía explained. “Art is the easiest way through which we open ourselves to another reality, become aware of what is happening, about the situations and experiences of women who have suffered, but who have now retrieved a sense of life and economic autonomy to form a family and be reinserted into society, thanks to the help of sisters, of Congregations, of laywomen as well.”

Listen to the interview with WUCWO/WWO President, María Lía Zervino
María Lía Zervino, President of WUWCO, and Lia Beltrami, Producer and Director of In-Visibles
María Lía Zervino, President of WUWCO, and Lia Beltrami, Producer and Director of In-Visibles

The WWO commissioned Filmmaker Lia Beltrami, CEO of Aurora Vision, to produce the documentary. “I liked the idea as soon as I received the proposal, because this is a bit what my lifetime commitment is,” Lia told Vatican News. After choosing a zone between Togo and Ghana, “we began working together right away with women, since women in Africa experience suffering that is common to all the other areas.”

Lia chose Sister of Providence Eleonora Agassa, as her assistant director. “I really liked the idea of working with a sister,” a “different type” of sister than “what we are used to,” Lia continued, referring to the fact that Sr Eleonora is an anthropologist and is currently obtaining a Master’s degree in communication. “There’s a beautiful story behind this,” Lia explained. “Sr Eleonora’s mother belongs to WUCWO in Togo. So, as a sister, Sr Eleonora already had an idea about this association of Catholic lay women working together with the sisters for the benefit of women.”

Sister Eleonora, Assistant Director of In-Visibles
Sister Eleonora, Assistant Director of In-Visibles

Sr Eleonora’s expertise was essential in creating the film, Lia noted. Her “precision and determination were fundamental, but also her sensitivity in choosing the stories to tell. She immediately organized meetings” with various communities of women religious who together narrowed down the group of women the film would focus on, Lia continued.

“This experience was beautiful for me. It was like an internship.” Sr Eleonora told Vatican News. “And I would say that In-Visibles is like Easter. This documentary narrates the descent into the profound suffering borne by African women, and at the same time shows their rebirth, their resurrection. And in their resurrection, there appears the figure of the consecrated women beside these women.

Watch the Trailer. In-Visibles will be distributed through Vatican News channels on the afternoon of 13 May.
Filming In-Visibles on site at the orphanage founded by Dorcas Fleur Kpodo
Filming In-Visibles on site at the orphanage founded by Dorcas Fleur Kpodo

“I would say,” Sr Eleonora continues, “that this documentary does not show all the suffering of African women, but only a drop. This film is like an X-ray, perhaps not only of African women, but of all the women in the world.” Sr Eleonora further explained that one aspect of the suffering African women bear within is how terrible it is when the courage to open up to another person is lacking. “Life becomes…it becomes…I would say it becomes a tomb in which the women live.”

“I would also characterize the help consecrated persons give as one that does not temporarily respond to a need, but one that makes the person autonomous so as to earn a dignified living. For this reason, I appeal to every person of good will to support projects sustained by women religious who work in the area of helping women and families become autonomous.”

Interview with Producer Lia Beltrami, and Assistant Director Sister Eleonor Agassa

María Lía was also on site for the filming. “It was a truly moving experience for me personally,” she recounted. She had already read 10,000 WWO surveys received from African women from over 30 countries, and had listened to hundreds of others in small group meetings. Everything she had read and heard “took on flesh and blood, it became real,” she recalled. “We touched it with our hands, our eyes, our hearts, we understood it not only with our minds, we made the voices of these women our own.”

“This is the reason why the Observatory produced In-Visibles, thanks to our partner, The Hilton Foundation: We wanted to create a network of Congregations and civil organizations to launch a global campaign to gradually eradicate violence against women in Africa.”

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10 May 2023, 09:00