New Film Engages Nigerien Youth Around Their Sexual and Reproductive Health

It was a March evening in Niamey, Niger, humid and nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and it was pitch black. My colleagues and I were experiencing yet another one of Niamey’s frequent power outages. 

As I roamed the familiar halls of Abdou Moumouni University around 8:00pm, I could see the silhouettes of students praying under a star-filled sky. We turned toward the amphitheater, where, despite the faltering electricity and a conservative culture where issues like sexual and reproductive health are rarely discussed, a crowd of students waited to see a film that addresses just those topics.

The film is called Binta’s Dilemma.

Created under the USAID-funded Evidence to Action (E2A) Project, led by Pathfinder International and produced by Nigerien film company Maggia, the film is meant to spark conversations among young Nigeriens about sexual and reproductive health. It brings up topics like pressure to marry and have children early, use of contraceptives before and during marriage, and young women’s right to an education. 

The film is part of E2A’s work in Niger, which applies Pathfinder’s highly successful Reflection and Action for Change methodology, known as REACH, to engage young people to identify and prioritize behavioral problems within their communities. The project then invites them to design concrete steps to tackle those issues. 

To develop Binta’s Dilemma, peer educators trained by E2A and Pathfinder played the Pathways to Change game with university students to identify barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health services. This provided the producers with material to write the screenplay and produce a film (with E2A and Pathfinder supervision) that would be provocative and encourage dialogue. 

Students not only showed up that night, they showed up as an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 300, ready to watch the film despite the power outage. 

When the power finally returned a little before 9:00pm, I was called up to offer a few words of introduction to the film.

A little nervous, I remembered the first time I arrived at the university and met these students. They told me they never had the opportunity to talk about sexual health and rights, never had access to condoms or sexual and reproductive health services. They told me how much they wanted that kind of information and care.

As the credits rolled at the end of the film, student supervisors came to the front to facilitate a discussion. This is a key component of REACH: engaging people in a conversation. Films like Binta’s Dilemma aren’t meant to just inform the audience; they are meant to engage. Instead of telling the students how to feel about early marriage or telling a young woman the age she should have her first child, this film allows the students to hear various opinions, speak honestly with peers, debate, and ultimately come to their own conclusion. 

That night at Abdou Moumouni was no different. Many hands went up in eagerness to comment on the issues confronting Binta and her husband Habou. Students shared a diversity of perspectives about feelings evoked by the film and the content of the storyline.

“I think the guy should get another wife,” said one young man. “He wants a child, his mother as well, so if his wife wants to delay it because of her studies, he has the right to push her to the side.” 

“Hmmm, it is tricky,” responded another young man, “I think the couple had an agreement of waiting for the woman to finish her studies before having a baby. So, I think the guy should have a conversation with his mother to explain this to her.”

Although the discussion and screening was dominated by male students, as the conversation continued, young women began to chime in, too. 

As I left the amphitheater at 11:00pm, the discussion still buzzed. The film was working! It was bringing these students together about issues that are so important.

However long the students talked that night), I hope the conversation continues far longer—reaching into the months and years ahead as the next generation of Nigeriens take charge of their sexual and reproductive well-being. 

Interested in learning more about this topic? 

Watch Binta’s Dilemma and read more about E2A’s work in Niger.

Join Pathfinder and E2A on June 4, 2015 for a special event focused on the use of narrative to address adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health through behavior change approaches—the techniques so effectively used in Binta’s Dilemma. A live webcast will begin at 10:30am EST. 

For more information on the events of June 4th, please visit our website or contact Laurel Lundstrom at llundstrom@e2aproject.org.

Regina Duarte Benevides de Barros

Regina Duarte Benevides de Barros is Pathfinder International's Senior Youth Advisor for the USAID-funded Evidence to Action Project.

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