In some African communities, a woman's status is defined by her ability to have children, a practice that leads some families to marry off underage girls in exchange for money and other goods like cattle.
The film At the End of The Rainbow depicts the predicaments that such girls go through. It was shot in Zimbabwe and tells the story of Onai, an underage girl from a poor family who is determined to do well in her studies.
This leads to an invitation to headmaster Charumbira played by Elijah Madzikatire to his office to congratulate her. However, his intentions are anything but pure. He takes advantage of his position and sexually abuses Onai. On their way home, Onai is in distress and is disgusted by the site of her headmaster. On arrival, he comes out of his car and gives Onai another fierce stare, hands her sister-in-law, who is surprised and happy to see him, two loaves of bread.
Unbeknown to her, she welcomes him with open arms, ululating and thankful for the gifts. In contrast, Onai looks on and when she walks out of the car, her sister-in-law notices that something is wrong.
When she questions, her abuser quickly explains that she has a leg injury. Later on, she finds out that Onai is pregnant and it finally comes to light that the headmaster abused her. In fact, he faces her family and admits to it.
Is this the reprieve Onai is looking for?
Unfortunately, the headmaster pays off her family and she is married off. Not even her family comes to her rescue. During labour, she faces complications that lead her to develop an obstetric fistula and her husband returns her home. He and her family don’t understand her condition.
What is an Obstetric Fistula?
An obstetric fistula is a childbirth injury that results in a hole in the birth canal due to obstructed labour. This kind of birth is endured for days, where the head of the unborn pushes against the pelvic bone, blocking blood flow which leads the tissues to die. It results in uncontrolled bowel movement which leads to leaking urine and faeces.
According to the World Health Organisation, around 2 million women in Sub-Saharan Africa suffer from untreated obstetric fistula. The condition is preventable if communities shun traditional practices like early marriage hence lowering the risk of early pregnancy and access to proper medical care.
Like Onai and her sister-in-law, women with this condition are shunned by the community, including getting divorced by their husbands and left alone to battle the disease.
The good news of it all is that obstetric fistula is entirely curable, which is one of the messages the film sends.
Film director Dereck explains: “We made a film where people can see the risks of early marriage & poor access to medical care which lead to diseases like fistula so that they can think about the situation and the solutions to the problem.
“It also sends a message of hope to those women who think fistula is the end for them. Onai eventually got treatment and so can they.”
For and by the community
The lead actress Sharon Chideu and director Dereck Nziyakwi work for Bustop TV, a Zimbabwean media production company that highlights political and social issues that affect society.
At the End of The Rainbow, one of their most successful films is made in collaboration with Amnesty International Zimbabwe which is campaigning to create awareness of the disease. The film has received seven film selections and will be screened at its home festival, the International Images Film Festival for Women in November.
Dereck: “Bustop TV is excited to screen the film at the IIFF. It’s a milestone opportunity for us as filmmakers around the globe will be in attendance. The film will be shown in front of many people and will help us to forge ahead in our careers. It’s a good thing for our actors as well to be shown at this level.”
At they bask in the success of their work, the overarching message they are sharing is that the community needs to put an end to the causes of obstetric fistula.
Sharon Chideu: “I didn’t know about obstetric fistula until amnesty international Zimbabwe approached us to do this story. I learnt a lot during this movie and told so many people about it. We have a serious situation with child marriages in the country because families allow these things to happen to their girls. As a result, we have people living with fistula and some think they have been bewitched so creating awareness is important.
“This is also a call to end child marriages. When you see something, say something and do something. The perpetrators shouldn’t get away with such outrageous offences.”