By: Selam Abdella
The Girls of Meru premiered on September 16th 2018 at the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival. In this film, Andrea Dorfman, director of the Emmy nominated film Flawed, shifts her lens to document the Equality Effect’s campaign on the 160 Girls Project— a legal initiative that aimed to achieve justice and protect against rape for girls in Kenya. This is issue amplified by barriers such as the lack of representation in international organizations and the deeply ingrained sense of outsiders’ hopelessness about Africa.
The Girls of Meru documents the strenuous fight against sexual violence- an issue that one in three girls in Kenya face before adulthood. The film follows Mercy Baidoo, head of the Tumaini Shelter in Meru County, Kenya, Canadian lawyer Fiona Sampson and their multinational legal team as they challenge the treatment of sexual violence in the Kenyan justice system.
The story is admirable from a legal lens. They built a case on the stories of 11 girls to bring about justice and protection to many more. Dorfman’s unique animations protect the girls’ identities, while giving the audience an eclectic point of view on who they are.
In the question and answer period following the screening, the audience had the opportunity to ask Dorfman about the making of the film, its contents, as well as what is next for The Girls of Meru. Dorfman openly talked about recognizing her position as an outsider with a camera, and the importance of realizing the vulnerability of the girls. During her time in Kenya, she stayed in the Tumaini Shelter alongside the girls and made sure that she connected with them on a personal level. In doing so, Dorfman ensured that this story was about the fight for justice being led by the girls and their legal team and not about her own experience of witnessing it.
The film’s ending, although uplifting, was also a reminder of the the harsh reality - that justice for the African girl child is often inaccessible without outsiders’ involvement. The economic and social pressure that the Global North can put on governments to enforce laws more effectively is undeniable. The financial capacity of the girls’ multinational legal team begs the question of whether the case would have closed in the girls’ favour otherwise. Dorfman’s response is honest— she does not know.
She made the film initially not knowing where she wanted it to go or who would see it. Now, she wants it to be a starting point— proof that change in gender movements is possible.
Andrea Dorfman believes that we can change the culture of impunity we live in. Regardless of who we are or where we are from, we should all have our rights.