Logline: Population growth has been left out of the climate debate because it is considered controversial, yet it is one of the most important factors. The global population has passed the 7 billion mark and India will soon overtake China as the most populous nation in the world, but one state in southern India has found the solution: Kerala educates its women.
Looking for: distributor, sales agent, TV interest, film festivals
Length: TV Hour
Awards: Gold World Medal: Social Issues in 2016 New York Festivals Film & TV Awards; Gold Award winner: Social Issues at 2015 World Documentary Awards (Indonesia); Gold Award winner at 2016 World Human Rights Awards (Indonesia); Gold Award winner: Documentary Feature at 2016 International Movie Awards (Indonesia); Gold Award winner: Documentary Feature at 2015 International IndependentFilm Awards (USA).
Director’s Statement: I am a long-term advocate of women’s rights, public education and environmental sustainability, as well as being a health advocate via my ‘other’ job as a medical practitioner.
1. Who knew that women are the answer to climate change. Can you explain what you mean by this statement?
In the West when talking about climate change we tend to concentrate on how much energy we all use, our carbon ‘footprints’, but we have avoided discussing one of the largest problems in the developing world – population growth and the number of people using the world’s limited resources – because it has been controversial.
This is not to diminish the importance of reducing our carbon emissions in the West but we need to look at both sides of the equation if we are to succeed. Population growth is one of the most important factors in the climate debate, and the best way to reduce it is by non-coercive means, namely by the education of women through secondary school.
This has been successfully demonstrated by one state in southern India – Kerala, so I chose to examine the development model used in Kerala to achieve this. Links are highlighted within the documentary between women’s education, women’s health, women’s rights and status in society, population growth, global poverty and global food shortage, economic growth and environmental stability.
William Ryerson from the documentary:
It is clear that excessive consumption in very wealthy countries is driving us over the brink of sustainability as is rapid population growth in poor countries. Some environmentalists who say that the number of people being added in the poorest countries is immaterial because their per capita carbon emissions and their consumption rates etc are fairly low compared to the West, are basically taking the position that from an environmental standpoint the poor are virtuous only as long as they remain poor.
I take the position that people deserve a decent quality of life and that poor countries should strive to reduce population growth to zero, while at the same time putting tax penalties and other incentives in place to reduce consumption in the West is vitally important in order not to overtax the earth's environment.
2. It’s a story we seldom hear in the West. Why do you think this is the case?
The main reason we do not discuss this in the West is because the 'control' of population growth is seen as controversial – as pointed out in the documentary - due to religious beliefs and also to coercive methods of birth control being tried in various countries in the recent past. Governments and NGOs will never use the word 'control' because it implies coercion of some sort, yet the most effective method of reducing population growth is non-coercive – the education of women.
3. Why did you decide to focus your film on women’s education in Kerala, India?
The effect of women’s education on population growth has been demonstrated in places other than Kerala but I chose to focus on Kerala because it is a great example - a single state that achieved total literacy (as defined by UNESCO) in the 1980s and has 1-2 child families, living within a country that is about to overtake China and soon become the most populous nation in the world.
Many cultural factors are similar to the rest of India but the Kerala model of development and the politics and attitudes of Keralites are different to other parts of India and could be examined and differentiated.
4. Which organizations helped facilitate your visit to India?
No organizations helped facilitate our visit: we travelled to Kerala to film twice and did it entirely independently. We emailed and contacted relevant people in India – politicians and academics etc that were involved in the development model that we were depicting – including at organizations such as the Centre for Development Studies in Kerala.
5. What type of feedback have you received so far about the film?
So far the film has only been shown at film festivals, and it has received a number of awards so has generally been well-received. It is however feature length and essentially an educational film so this limits its screenings somewhat.
Hopefully it will be able to reach a broader educational market via secondary schools, tertiary institutions and NGOs who are involved with global development.
6. Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
7. What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
Exposure, exposure, exposure. Most low-budget films have little or no marketing budget and fail to reach an audience as a result - we cannot compete with the commercial, predominantly US-fare on offer. For younger film-makers the internet can readily be used for promotion but this is far more limited for older/ middle-aged filmmakers and their audiences. Hopefully wearemovingstories can assist somewhat with this by making our small films more visible.
8. Who do you need to come on board to amplify this film’s message and audience?
I would love organizations (both Government and NGOs) involved with global development to come on board and promote the film to their constituencies (within and outside Australia), as well as educational institutions (tertiary and secondary) and the teachers/academics therein. Also film festival directors and educational distributors plus networks (free-to-air TV, cable etc) both within Australia and internationally.
9. What type of impact would you like this film to have?
What I hope that Women Are The Answer does is help viewers understand the links between many social issues, and how the political systems can affect these issues - how interconnected all of these ‘social issues” and so-called “economic growth” are. I believe these links are necessary for people to comprehend if things are going to improve globally. And if we don’t do something the consequences will be disastrous for everyone.
In recent years there has been increasing emphasis on the role of women to help raise families from poverty, and powerful emotional documentaries such as Malala have come out at the same time as mine, so the message about women’s education is starting to resound.
10. Lastly, what’s a key question that will help spark a debate about this issue and film?
Let’s keep the emphasis on PUBLIC education and PUBLIC health rather than on private profits - in Kerala and the rest of India, but also in health & education debates in Australia (and possibly also in the USA via Bernie Sanders). Isn’t it time for more socialism in the world to combat the neoliberalism and resulting inequality that is destroying the planet?