Grishma Shah is a Mass-Media Consultant that works with filmmakers, actors, curators and film festivals. For the last three years, Grishma has been a film programmer for the Chicago South Asian Film Festival (CSAFF) presented by Zee Cinema which takes place in the heart of Chicago. Latterly, she has ventured into event management, becoming the co-director of ReelAbilities Film Festival (RAFF) Chicago, in partnership with the City of Chicago for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 25th Anniversary. When Grishma isn’t screening a film for a film festival, you will find her on a film set, in a script writing class, or on a comfortable couch working on her very first children’s book.
This year, MALA is spotlighting individual stories from men and women who take a stand to eliminate violence against women, both nationally and globally. Our community looks forward to supporting UN Women’s Orange the World Campaign (25 November – 10 December) to support efforts to end violence against women and girls worldwide.
On a summery afternoon, a young girl was riding the train and gazing out the window. A middle aged woman sat down next to her and noticed she was crying. She asked, “Child, are you lost?” The girl whispered, “No ma’am, my mom is waiting for me at the next stop.” The woman continued to converse with the girl. “Well, then why are you crying? Don’t you want to go home?” The girl took her eyes away from the window, looked down at the floor and said, “No, ma’am.” Wanting to cheer the girl up, the woman decided to tell her a silly joke she heard from her son. She knew the joke would at least get the girl to stop crying. And she was right. After hearing the joke, the girl gave out a soft laugh. She then began to brush her runny nose on her coat sleeve. Just then, the woman noticed something on the girl’s wrist. “What happened to your hand, Child?” She looked up and answered, “Nothing ma’am,” and slid her hand back under her sleeve. The woman whispered to the girl and said, “I don’t want you to go home either.” Knowing that the train was going to stop soon, the woman immediately reached for her purse and gave the girl her business card. She said, “Give this to your mom, OK?” The girl took the card and put it in her pocket. When the train stopped, the girl made her way to the exit doors.
Before the train began to pick up speed, the woman was able to see the girl and her mother reunite on the platform. She noticed that the girl’s mother, who was in a wheelchair, also had a bruise on her face. The woman felt confident about the quick assessment she had made. Her training taught her about the startling statistics: 1 in 7 children experience Childhood Domestic Violence ; 1 in 3 women will experience physical and/or sexual violence; women who have disabilities are at an increased risk of being abused. When the girl’s mother read the business card, she realized that her daughter was sitting next to a Domestic Violence counselor.
Messages disseminated through the art of storytelling have the ability to reach and educate audiences at unprecedented levels. I work with platforms such as cinema, and film festivals to engross audiences with captivating stories such as the story above, with the objective of invoking positive change and reducing gender inequality.
Growing up, I was surrounded by male cousins and male friends. Seeing the privilege of being born male made the gender inequalities that girls faced, palpable. I questioned why the imbalance was present and I was told it was the way of the world; as many before me were probably told. I did not find solace in that answer, even as a child. As I grew older, I became more resolute and passionate about gender equality and women empowerment.
It was in college when I realized a truth about myself. As much as I believed that I was a strong and independent woman, I also subconsciously believed that a woman’s worth was defined by certain luxuries: marriage, having an engagement ring (over 1 karat), having a large home with healthy children running around. Many of these luxuries were dependent on how “perfect” the woman was. A “perfect” woman was dutiful, selfless, obedient and most importantly, beautiful.
Imagine my surprise, when one day I woke up to discover that I would be living the rest of my life as an amputee, because of a silly tumor. I did not ooze beauty, but I was adequate looking and “normal” so these luxuries were attainable. But, being a “disabled” woman automatically takes you out of the running–who would want to put a ring on her finger? If a “disabled” woman does get married, then she should feel lucky; even if she is abused or mistreated. This is not the absolute truth. This is just what we grow up believing is the absolute truth. All human beings are worthy of love, respect, happiness and engagement rings. That is the absolute truth. If we want to provide a great future for our children, it is crucial to empower both, our daughters and our sons.