Launched in 2003, "Love, Labour, Loss" is a documentary film and community campaign that seeks to profile the struggles of young mothers in Africa who are ostracised because of "obstetric fistula", a condition they develop from prolonged labour and lack of access to emergency obstetric care. Shot in Niger, West Africa, the documentary aims to "challenge the global apathy towards women's reproductive rights by profiling a special group of women who live with obstetric fistula”. The film has been used as an advocacy tool in the United States and across the globe to obtain programmatic and financial support for the cause.
Communication Strategies: 

The film follows women who live at the Niamey National Hospital with the hope of having their fistulas repaired. The hospital, situated in the capital of this landlocked nation, has become a meeting ground for committed western and local doctors who work side-by-side to address the shortage of surgical expertise and resources to cure this affliction and to give fistula-affected women a second chance at living a normal life.

According to the producers, “as the stories of these women unfold in the film, the picture of their personal tragedy transforms into a larger portrait of the challenges to eradicate fistula in Niger. A country where women are being forced into marriage at an early age (as young as nine), becoming pregnant shortly after without access to appropriate prenatal and emergency obstetric care, and who are unable to make their own choices about their reproductive health, Niger's strong commitment to alleviating women of fistula is met by tremendous social hurdles, implying a need for concerted efforts into truly recognising, reshaping and reinvesting in women's reproductive rights throughout the world.”

The film was directed and produced by Lisa Russell, an independent documentary filmmaker from Brooklyn, New York. According to the organisers, since 2004, the film has enjoyed a very successful grassroots distribution - screening at universities, conferences, and other events, reaching thousands of people nationwide. Hundreds of screenings and discussions have taken place in both small town and metropolitan areas, and at state and Ivy League colleges. Thousands of dollars have been raised for a variety of fistula programmes (ranging in scope from a global United Nations campaign to a local non-governmental organisation in Tanzania).

A 15-minute advocacy version of "Love, Labour, Loss" was launched the Beijing +10 Women’s Conference at the United Nations in March 2005. Since then, it has been widely used by the global women’s health community at conferences (Feminist Majority Collegiate Conference, National Youth Leadership Forum, and NYC Grassroots Media Conference), special events (with Planned Parenthood at George Washington University) and at a Congressional Briefing on fistula (hosted by Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Joseph Crowley and Bobby Rush).

In September of 2005, Russell joined forces with Grammy-nominated artist, Zap Mama, to create The Woman Tour, a three-week initiative of film screenings and open mics to address global women's health, particularly obstetric fistula. And in 2006,"Love, Labour, Loss” became part of the Best Of Films collection for the International Museum of Women's Imagining Ourselves online exhibit.

To find out more and for information on how to obtain a copy of the film go to the Governess Films website.

Development Issues: 

Children, Women, Rights, Health

Key Points: 

Named by the United Nations in 2005 as one of the “Ten Stories the World Should Hear More About,” obstetric fistula is both preventable and curable however lack of awareness and funding is keeping women from getting the help they need.

An obstetric fistula develops when blood supply to the tissues of the vagina and the bladder (and/or rectum) is cut off during prolonged obstructed labour. When this tissue dies, a hole forms through which urine and/or faeces pass uncontrollably. Affected women cannot help but soil themselves. Many women who develop fistulas are often abandoned by their husbands, rejected by their communities, and forced to live an isolated existence.

Partner Text: 

Governess Films, United Nations Population Fund, Engender Health, International Centre for Research on Women, Feminist Majority Foundation, Campaign to end fistula, Global Health Council, Women’s Dignity.


Governess Films website on November 18 2004.