Jaha’s Promise – Film Review by Frank L.
Directed by Patrick Farrelly and Kate O’Callaghan
Jaha Dukureh, now 27 years old, underwent female genital mutilation (FGM) as a baby in the Gambia. She has very many siblings, the names of some of which she does not even know, as her father has three wives, and new siblings continue to arrive. She was brought to New York City at the age of fifteen to be married to a man more than twenty years her senior. The documentary then describes her journey of escape from that marriage, her quest for education and her sense of anger about her FGM which had scarred her very essence. With admirable emotional restraint, she sets out to understand the social traditions and the religious beliefs which permitted FGM to become such a common practice. For Jaha, that meant she had to return to the Gambia and within her own family campaign against the practice. However, she wanted not only to stop it within her own family but also to have the practice made illegal in the Gambia. She therefore compiled, through hard work, the necessary evidence to undermine the myths which had been created to support the practice.
In Atlanta, Georgia she now lives with a man of her choosing and they have three children. The ease with which she moves between the two contrasting worlds of The Gambia and Atlanta, Georgia is noteworthy. Her confident ability in the Gambia to take on face to face those who favour FGM shows a courage of great depth. What is described, at times in unsettling detail, is grim. However, Jaha knows how to bring people onto her side and her obtaining the support of the Guardian newspaper shows the importance of building alliances.
While Jaha’s Promise is the story of one human’s campaign against an injustice, it has many beautiful visual moments particularly the deportment and colourful dress of the Gambian women. It is good to observe reasoned argument, delivered in a calm tone, changing minds. The directors Farrelly and O’Callaghan are to be congratulated on showing this fine woman as she carries on her brave campaign with such intelligence and dignity. It is an uplifting film.