Gerri McHugh: Storytelling & Films for Change

Last November we wrote about a specific event: the Women Leaders in Global Health Conference. The event focused on the importance of female leadership in health and science and led us to create a series of blogs. In each post, we encounter a woman who has reached a position of leadership and can be a role model for many young women out there. 

We hope you will feel inspired, and maybe even decide to follow in their footsteps to become the leaders of tomorrow! 

Our second guest on the series is Gerri McHugh. Gerri is director and founder of Global Health Film, a nonprofit organization that promotes storytelling and film as tools of catalytic discussion and change. Her interesting lifepath shows that a career can be more like a series of interconnected roads, rather than a straight line. 

Gerri McHugh

Gerri has been working in positions of leadership for a long time. However, she hasn’t always been part of the nonprofit world. At the beginning of her career, she worked for profitable businesses. Something changed when, in her late 20s, Gerri lost her father. This triggered a series of life changes.

She came back to the UK, after years of living in the South of Europe, and started to work in the non-profit sector. She started in a junior role, but thanks to her commercial experience and the acquisition of an MBA degree (Master in Business Administration), she quickly advanced to a senior level.

After talking with Gerri, you realize how passionate she is about her work and it is not surprising to hear about her long-lived interest for social justice and fighting hidden inequities, such as female genial mutilation (FGM) and sexual violence as a weapon of war. She says she believes all people should live their life fully and be in a condition to utilize their potential and create their own opportunities.

“Luck is when an opportunity arises and you are ready to take it; you can create your own luck.”

Today, Gerri spreads knowledge through great movies from all over the world through Global Health Film. She is not a film-maker, but in 2011, a small group of people started a film club to organize a few movie events a year. They were all members of the Royal Society of Medicine and interested in storytelling. Then, in 2014, supported by a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant, they started the adventure that led to Global Health Film as it is known today. 

“You need to understand what storytelling is, you don’t need to be a filmmaker; you just need to bring new ideas, which is very similar to scientific thinking.”

Volunteers at the Global Health Film Festival 2017

She continues by saying that storytelling is the perfect way to show the grey areas, because reality is never black and white. Movies have the capacity to show you different people’s perspectives, and can help you understand those perspectives. Understanding is fundamental to connection, especially when you talk about global health topics which are complex and involve multiple disciplines. A great movie can capture this complexity.  

When asked what leadership means to her, Gerri said leadership is risk-taking and being unafraid to fail. Adding to that, it is also a collective effort, so as a leader you need to make everybody part of the journey.

Gerri feels very hopeful about the future. She would like to tell every young woman to remember that she is unique, and needs to grab any opportunity to make the most out of her time on this earth.

Feeling inspired by Gerri’s story? Would you like to use movies to spark positive change? Look out for gathering places in your community for people who are passionate about journalism, photography and media. Spaces like Front Line Club in London host events and workshops are can be great opportunities to meet people and build networks.

There are also many study pathways to consider, such as an MBA in Communication. Admission criteria and fees vary around the world, but one example is the EU Business School with programs in different European cities and online. This could give you some ideas about where to start, but remember that everything always starts from within, from you.

The Wonders of Wonder Woman

In an interview at the Jimmy Kimmel Live show, Gal Gadot, who plays Wonder Woman in the movies Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeWonder Woman, and the upcoming Justice League, shared a story about her five year old daughter. While they were playing in a park, her daughter told the parents of other kids that her mother was Wonder Woman. When the parents looked at Gadot, not recognizing her, she told them, “You know, every mother is a Wonder Woman!”

The funny part of this story is, of course, that Gadot is actually Wonder Woman in the movie. However, the sentiment behind her response of “every mother is a Wonder Woman” may be the main reason why the film Wonder Woman has gotten so much positive feedback: the fact that Wonder Woman embodies the truth that women have the power to make a positive impact – whether that’s saving the world from villains, or being a caring mother and wife.

Unlike so many female characters, Wonder Woman is a multidimensional and complex character. She’s naive about basic social norms, such as dress codes in World War I England, the fact that women are not allowed in some places, to how to dance with a man. She’s also extremely tough and physically strong, surprising men throughout the movie with her incredible fighting skills. Emotionally, she shows hate towards evil, but also an ability to see the good even in people considered evil by others. She is a total idealist, wanting to help everyone along the way, but her idealism and kindness towards others is based on her own strong convictions and belief that there is indeed good among the bad.

Despite positive reviews, the movie has received some criticism regarding its attempt to be a feminist movie, citing, for example, Gadot’s model-beauty as perpetuating a stereotype that female heroines must be physically attractive. However, I believe the movie has more positive than negative aspects, perhaps best exemplified in Gadot’s own life as a model, wife, and mother of two (she even filmed part of the movie while pregnant!), who served two years the Israel Defense Forces.

Women can be intelligent and athletic, sexy and caring, all at the same time. Gadot’s own life is proof of all that women are capable of, and the complexities that make us as human as men.

It’s also worth mentioning that the movie was directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins – the first woman to direct a movie that had a budget of more than 100 million US dollars.

In October 2016, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Wonder Woman’s first appearance in comics, the United Nations appointed her as UN honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls, a controversial decision that ultimately led to the end of Wonder Woman’s role representing the UN.

On this controversy, Gadot stated: “There are so many horrible things that are going on in the world, and this is what you’re protesting, seriously?” […] When people argue that Wonder Woman should ‘cover up,’ I don’t quite get it. They say, ‘If she’s smart and strong, she can’t also be sexy.’ That’s not fair. Why can’t she be all of the above?

I would be cautious to call Wonder Woman a “feminist” movie—she is, after all, a fictional character, portrayed by a white model-actress. But I would still praise it for the positive and hopeful message it gives about humanity as a whole— that we shouldn’t give up on the good humans are capable of just because at times humans can be evil. The main message I left the movie with is this: regardless of gender, race, social status, talents and abilities, we are capable of making the world a better place – and that can include sexy and physically strong women too.

Movies to Make You Feel Bold!

Ever since this year’s International Women’s Day we’ve been celebrating our brilliant Girls’ Globe network – the individuals and organizations committed to making the world a better and more equal place to live.

We asked each of our contributors to share their secrets of feeling BOLD. They told us about books that inspire them, songs that embolden them and quotations that move them. Last up, here is Girls’ Globe’s big, bold movie list. Why not treat yourself to one of these tonight?!

  1. Spotlight, 2015
    The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese.
  2. Queen of Katwe, 2016
    A Ugandan girl sees her world rapidly change after being introduced to the game of chess.
  3. Juno, 2007
    Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, an offbeat young woman makes an unusual decision regarding her unborn child.
  4. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, 2013
    When his job is threatened, Walter embarks on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined.
  5. Sarafina, 1992
    South African teenagers fight against apartheid in the Soweto Uprising.
  6. She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, 2014
    A documentary that resurrects the buried history of the outrageous, often brilliant women who founded the modern women’s movement from 1966 to 1971.
  7. Wild, 2014
    A chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent personal tragedy, based on the incredible book by Cheryl Strayed.
  8. Le Grand Bleu, 1988

    The rivalry between Enzo and Jacques, two childhood friends and now world-renowned free divers, becomes a beautiful and perilous journey into oneself and the unknown.

  9. Selma, 2014
    A chronicle of Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.
  10. Brave, 2012
    Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.
  11. Hidden Figures, 2016
    The story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program.
  12. Far from the Madding Crowd, 2015
    In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor.
  13. Million Dollar Baby, 2004
    A determined woman works with a hardened boxing trainer to become a professional.
  14. Run Lola Run, 1998
    After a botched money delivery, Lola has 20 minutes to come up with 100,000 Deutschmarks.
  15. Pray the Devil Back to Hell, 2008
    A group of women rise up to peace to Liberia and help bring to power the country’s first female head of state.

    Which movies would make it onto your own list? We’d love for you to share your ‘Movies to Make You Feel Bold’ recommendations with us – please leave a comment or connect with us on FacebookInstagram or Twitter

Cover photo credit: Jeremy Yap

Using Storytelling to Create Social Change

Violence is the second leading cause of death among adolescent girls globally. Not malnutrition or accidents or cardiovascular disease or maternal conditions. Violence. In fact, among girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide, almost one quarter (around 70 million) have reported experiencing some form of physical violence since the age of 15. These shocking statistics can leave one feeling overwhelmed, confused, and angry. Luckily there are many out there working to change the lives of girls for the better.

Rebecca Barry wasn’t on the course to advocate for the health and rights of girls and women, but her life took a turn in 2009 while on holiday in Samoa. What happened inspired her to find a way to use her skills and resources to raise awareness and connect others looking to create change. Girls Globe recently sat down with the director and producer of I AM A GIRL to talk about what girls in the world are facing today, and how we can all work to make a difference.

Katie; c/o I AM A GIRL
Katie; c/o I AM A GIRL

How did the idea for I AM A GIRL come about? 

Barry: In 2009 I was lucky enough to survive a tsunami while on holiday in Samoa. This event was the most frightening and leveling experience of my life. With my brush with death came a realization that perhaps for the first time, I did not have control, in those moments, over my life and its outcomes. I came to understand that for many (if not most) girls in the world today, this is a feeling they live with everyday.

Soon after, I was reading a magazine article about the plight of girls and was moved to tears. Despite technological advances and the abundance of wealth, we live in a world that openly discriminates against girls. They are not religious or political activists … they are girls. It is from this basis alone from which the most incomprehensible violence, health issues and abuse transpires.

Knowing this information brought me to the point where I asked myself the question, what can I do about this? I decided to make I AM A GIRL, which could reach out to a broader audience to inform others and to give people the opportunity to connect and do something through partnerships.

The film is a fantastic example of blending social impact with storytelling. What did you hope for it?

Barry: I AM A GIRL was my first attempt at social impact storytelling and it is very addictive. I have since co-founded Media Stockade ( which is a production company whose primary focus is creating and distributing social impact films that can be used to facilitate debate, conversation and get people thinking, feeling and acting differently about social issues.

Can a film change the way we think? Or even change these grotesque statistics. I truly believe it can. My vision for I AM A GIRL is pure and simple – to weave a universal story through the voices of girls in various locations around the world, dealing with different challenges.

Habiba; c/o I AM A GIRL

How has the film been received since its 2013 release?

Barry: The film has had extraordinary impact! It has screened at film festivals around the world and has been nominated for several awards, as well as been critically acclaimed. It has been picked up by individuals and organizations who have screened the film as a fundraiser and community builder. It has been incredible to hear these stories of impact and outreach! I AM A GIRL has helped raised funds to send two girls to University in Kabul, Afghanistan for a year, put 40 girls from low socio economic backgrounds through self esteem workshops, and to fund an art art therapy program for survivors of domestic violence. And that’s just a few of the amazing examples of impact that have occurred.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

Barry: The biggest challenge was finding the resources to make the film. We funded the film through philanthropy and assembled an incredible coalition of partners to help bring the film to the big screen. Another challenge was getting my head around filming in Afghanistan which was a war zone at the time. As small crew made up of two women certainly didn’t pick the easiest of countries to film in!

How did the film impact your life?

Barry: The film has had a huge impact on my life. I have met the most inspiring people through the film and it has given me so much hope having connected with the incredible work of individuals and organisations around the world. I have moved on from a place of despair to now thinking that we are heading in the right direction in regards to gender equality. Professionally, the film has given me a focus and I have started to say to myself that I need to do more in area of girl empowerment.

Breani; c/o I AM A GIRL
Breani; c/o I AM A GIRL

Do you have future plans for I AM A GIRL?

Barry: We are currently releasing the film in the United States through the Cinema on Demand Platform called Gathr. This platform means that anyone can request to bring the film to their local cinema no matter where they are. All you have to do is go to the website and type in your zip code to find a screening near you! If there isn’t one, you can request a screening. Gathr organizes everything – you just have to share the screening with your community, friends and family. It’s very simple and our hope is that everyone will become a part of the I AM A GIRL tribe and bring the film to their local communities.

Within global advocacy, we see the power of storytelling. What do you hope storytelling does for girls and women of the world?

Barry: Storytelling and testimony is a human right. Article 19 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” 

How wonderful it is to hear girls’ stories in their own voices talking about their hopes and dreams. The more stories we hear from women and girls the more powerful we become. Storytelling is a way to share these stories and empower change. If we see and hear their stories we cannot ignore them.

We couldn’t agree more! What’s next for you in the world of empowering change?

Barry: I am currently working on a few different projects as producer through Media Stockade. My next directing opportunity will be a drama set in Afghanistan.

Kimsey; c/o I AM A GIRL
Kimsey; c/o I AM A GIRL

You found a great way to use your skills and resources to create change. What advice would you give to the every day person looking to make an impact in the lives of girls?

Barry: Anyone can make an impact in the lives of girls. The thing to do is ask yourself, “what can I do?” Are you a teacher, a parent, an employer? Look for what you are good and apply a gender lense. Even by simply starting a conversation with your friends, colleagues, sons, and community you are making an impact. Even better you can organize a screening of I AM A GIRL at your local cinema!

For more information, visit I AM A GIRL.

Do you watch TV? You’re not getting the whole picture.

Let’s picture this:

  • In family rated films, for every one speaking female character there are three male characters.
  • Females are over two times as likely as males to be shown in sexually revealing attire (24.8% vs. 9.4%), thin (38.5% vs. 15.7%), and partially or fully naked (24.2% vs. 11.5%).
  • There is virtually little or no difference in the sexualization of female characters between the ages of 13 and 39 years.

These harsh statistics are not a thought experiment, rather the realities of the current global entertainment industry. On Monday, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media hosted the 2nd Global Symposium on Gender in Media to discuss the underrepresentation of women in the industry. It was an honest, concise and transformative event that is sure to alter the way I consume media for the rest of my life.

IMG_9453Academy Award winning actress, producer, writer, model, and athlete, Geena Davis, founded the Institute at Mount St. Mary’s College after spending time watching television with her young daughter and discovering the extent of gender imbalance in television shows and films – particularly those geared towards children. It is the only research-based organization working within the entertainment industry to highlight the need for gender balance and create necessary female characters in children’s programs.

Davis’ speech began by presenting the gender disparity in the media and its effects on youth today. As a result of female underrepresentation “we are saying that women and girls are less valuable than men and boys.” The more television a girl watches, the more her self-esteem drops because she thinks she has fewer options. For boys, it’s quite the opposite. The more television a young boy watches, the higher his self-esteem.

“The change must be dramatic. What reason can we possibly give to children to explain why women and girls are missing from their TV shows and movies or devalued?” – Geena Davis

The Gender Bias Without Borders report compiles findings from 120 global films from Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the U.K. and the U.S., the most profitable territories worldwide, and compares data based on female roles, sexualization, and sectors represented by a female leader. In the movies examined, there are very few (if any) lawyers, judges, doctors, professors, journalists, sports figures or clergy female characters.

If young girls do not see all the potential opportunities in the media, where else will they find these role models?

“We tell [kids] that boys and girls are equal, but if they don’t see it, it doesn’t sink in,” Davis adds. As a result, the message becomes boys are more important than girls and this skewed representation is a disservice to all children.

Davis also noted that the ratio of male to female characters has been exactly the same since 1946. In the U.S. and the U.K., the percentage of women in leadership positions stalls out at nearly the same percentage of women depicted in media – approximately 17 percent. Even in overhead shots of crowd scenes, the percentage of women shown remains a mere 17 percent. Although there has been a slight improvement in gender equality in the media over a 20 year study, if gender parity continues at the same pace, we will not receive gender equality in the media for 700 years.

Also in 1946, the UN Commission on the Status of Women was established with a mandate to “set standards of women’s rights, encourage governments to bring their laws in line with international conventions and to encourage global awareness of women’s rights.” Fast forward nearly 70 years and we are still discussing similar issues regarding women’s rights. It is no coincidence that the representation of women in the media has not changed in the same time frame.

But the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is arming itself with information to represent women accurately and abundantly by creating original content for children under 11 and disseminating their reports to industry executives.

“Media itself can be a cure for the problem it’s created.” – Geena Davis

Davis concluded with an inspirational call to action: “In the time it takes to make a movie or create a television show, we can change what the future looks like.” Media images are a very powerful force for shaping how women and girls are viewed around the world, and how they view themselves. Unlike other areas where women are underrepresented, the shift in the entertainment industry can happen immediately and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is spearheading this revolution. Don’t sit back and watch.

September 21st-26th Girls’ Globe will be in New York for the 2014 UN General Assembly. We are partnering with FHI360, Johnson & Johnson, and Women Deliver in support of Every Woman Every Child to amplify the global conversation on the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda. Follow #MDG456Live, raise your voice and join the conversation to advance women’s and children’s health. Sign up for the Daily Delivery to receive live crowd-sourced coverage of these issues directly to your inbox.

All facts and statistics were found in the Gender Bias Without Borders report from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

Grace Hopper: A Role Model for Girls in Tech

Grace Hopper was a Math Professor at Vassar whose life changed when Pearl Harbor was attacked, marking the US’ entrance into WWII. At the time, the US military did not have enough soldiers to fight the war. So the Navy created the Women’s Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) program to recruit women to join the military. Grace’s family had a long, illustrious career in the military, and she wanted to continue that tradition. So when the Navy came calling, she joined and was assigned to a secret project. Little did she know how that assignment would put her at the forefront of a new industry – computers.

One of Grace’s accomplishments, while building the industry, was leading the development of COBOL, the first user-friendly computer programming language to use every day words and, with the help of a compiler, translates them into machine language (0s and 1s). Many governments and corporations around the world still rely on this 50+ year old computer language. In fact, you even rely on it yourself without realizing it. Cobol functions in the background whenever you use an ATM, buy something online, book a flight, stop at a traffic light, etc.

Women, like Grace, have always played an instrumental role in shaping governments and industries throughout history. Many times, though, history often fails to recognize their accomplishments and contributions. This has a detrimental impact on girls because they lack necessary role models they can look to and try to emulate. The last few years have seen a growing discussion about the lack of women in technology. But, without role models to emulate, it’s hard to be what you can’t see. So how do you change the dynamic? One way is through the media.

Working off this premise, two tech-loving filmmakers, Melissa Pierce and Marian Mangoubi, decided it was time to write women back into computer history. To do this, they decided to show young girls and women a role model in tech that they could relate to, one who played an important role in the birth and growth of the computer industry. Thus, Born with Curiosity: The Grace Hopper Story.

Pierce’s and Mangoubi’s biographical documentary, Born with Curiosity: The Grace Hopper Story, focuses on US Navy Rear Admiral and computer pioneer, Grace Hopper’s secretive and sometimes messy personal life juxtaposed against the cultural century and the evolution of women’s roles in American society.

“Our goal is to show the impact Grace had on the history of computer programming while also raising awareness of women’s contributions to the computer industry”, said Producer/Director/Screenwriter, Pierce.

When asked why do the documentary now, Mangoubi said “given the outcry about the lack of women in tech, now was a good time to remind the world that women actually played an integral role in the building the foundation of the industry”.

To learn more about Born With Curiosity: The Grace Hopper Story and contribute to their work, check out this Indiegogo Campaign!

Melissa Pierce (Director, Producer, and Screenwriter) stepped down from her role as COO of Everpurse Inc. to pursue the making of Born with Curiosity – the Grace Hopper Story, she retains a board seat at Everpurse. She is also the Executive Director of Chicago Women Developers NFP which supports women in and interested in computer programming. Melissa’s first documentary film, Life in Perpetual Beta (2010) examined how current technologies change human behavior. It was premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2010 and won an award for merit at Hollywood Los Angeles Film Festival in 2011.

Marian Mangoubi (Producer, Screenwriter, and Researcher) uses her voice via social media to raise the profile of many women leaders in the world who go unrecognized. Marian can also be found writing scripts, novels, and short stories as well as working on several film and television productions.