Meryl Streep’s New Film Tackles “A Fate Worse Than Death”


In the new documentary Shout Gladi Gladi, narrated by multiple Academy Award-winner Meryl Streep, filmmakers Adam Friedman and Iain Kennedy focus their lens on the women of war-torn Sierra Leone and Malawi, who suffer from an affliction many in their communities describe as a fate worse than death: obstetric fistula.

Obstetric fistula—which occurs during days-long obstructed labor—is a condition common in developing regions where necessary reproductive healthcare, such as prenatal care, is scarce if not completely non-existent. Because of the lack of available medical resources to ease birth, the baby’s head pushes against the women’s pelvis, pinching and stopping blood flow to healthy tissue and causing the tissue to die. A gaping hole between the woman’s vagina and her bladder or rectum soon develops and can result in uncontrollable urine and stool evacuation, skin infections, kidney disease or death.

As if physical illness weren’t enough, women suffering from obstetric fistula also face social stigmatization. Most have limited access to diapers or other products to capture waste, so many do without entirely, enduring the stench that accompanies poor hygiene management. That makes it near-impossible to engage in their communities socially, and impossible to hold down employment. Moreover, obstetric fistula renders the possibility of future births inconceivable, a devastating burden to bear for women whose societal value is measured by their ability to reproduce.

But obstetric fistula is treatable and, more importantly, preventable. Ann Gloag, the nurse-turned-crusader at the center of Africa’s maternal healthcare crisis, who also serves as the one of the primary subjects of Shout Shout Gladi, has made it her mission to not only raise awareness about the estimated 2 million women suffering from obstetric fistula in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, but also to build self-sustaining fistula clinics, maternity facilities and children’s units in developing countries—such as Sierra Leone, Malawi and Kenya—to support those suffering from the condition and their families, and to eradicate the affliction (as developed countries like the United States have done) entirely. In addition to treatment, Gloag and her clinics offer tools to reintegrate the women into their communities. One such tool, BBOXX, is a portable solar-powered generator with which the women can light their homes as well as start their own businesses providing the energy to charge cell phones and other small appliances for a fee.

Naturally, the heartbeat of the fight for freedom from obstetric fistula—and those at the center of Shout Gladi Gladi—are the women seeking treatment for the condition. Ranging in age from 9 to 70 years old, these women have experienced firsthand the physical pain of unsupported childbirth, the emotional distress of daily incontinence and the social shame associated with fistula. The details of their lives exposed in fleeting snapshots, each woman shares her own personal story of courage and survival, overcoming unimaginable odds including the deaths of children, sexual and physical abuse, child marriage, war, extreme poverty and malnourishment. An exceptionally inspiring moment in the film, the song and dance ceremony called Gladi Gladi, during which the women don beautifully patterned dresses made especially for them, marks the culmination of their treatment and is a celebration of their new lives free from infirmity, their hope as contagious as their smiles.

While Shout Gladi Gladi may end on an emotional high, the fight to end obstetric fistula and improve maternal healthcare is not over. Every day, approximately 800 women die of preventable causes associated with pregnancy and childbirth and nearly all occur in developing countries. Gloag’s charity, the Freedom from Fistula Foundation, continues to work tirelessly to provide fistula-repairing surgeries, maternity care to prevent future fistulas and training to local healthcare workers free of charge. One hundred percent of donations to the foundation go directly to helping women and girls at the organization’s fistula and maternal healthcare projects in Africa.

You can show your support for the cause by attending a screening of Shout Gladi Gladi at a theater near you! Sign up for the Freedom From Fistula Foundation‘s newsletter and include “ Free Movie Ticket” in the subject line to receive a free ticket to Shout Gladi Gladi in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle or Washington D.C. All tickets are subject to availability.

Photo courtesy of Shout Gladi Gladi


Kitty Lindsay is a Ms. blogger and works at the Feminist Majority Foundation. She is also creator and host of Feminist Crush, a weekly podcast featuring conversations with feminist artists and activists. Follow her on Twitter!