Punishment Island, a documentary on disowned women and forgotten lands in Uganda

Author's name: 
Laura Cini

Punishment Island, a documentary on disowned women and forgotten lands, has started a crowdfunding campaign on Ulule. The mission is reach the target of 10.000 Euros within the end of the year. Another 52 days to keep alive the hope of telling this unique story.

A step back.

In South-Western Uganda, the stunning fairy-tale looking Lake Bunyonyi is dominated by the peaks of two volcanoes and dotted with 29 little islands. One of those is called Akampene, punishment in the local language. There, women who got pregnant breaking the taboo of premarital sex were abandoned by their fathers. The tiny island didn’t offer nor shelter nor food and the girls were destined to die. However some were saved by poor men who were going to the island with the hope of finding free wives. The girls were disowned, so no bride price was claimed for them.

This is what is told to everyone who gets to the lake. And this is what I was told when I was there, two years ago, working on a documentary to promote women crafts making for a local association. I wanted more details, but nobody seemed to know when the practice had stopped exactly. Someone was saying around 1940, but there were no records nor documents. What I knew and could see was that life is still very hard for women in the local communities. Girls who get pregnant before marriage are still sent away from their families. They say it is to protect them from harassment by male members of their families. My thought was: “If they had something so terrible happening on their land, and nobody cares enough to carry out the simplest research, how can they learn to stand up to their rights?”

On our blog, Elisabeth Ritchie, adviser for VSO Kampala, wrote: “In 2011, UNICEF’s report The State of the World’s Children, Adolescence: an Age of Opportunity (2011) noted that 70% of Ugandan teenagers aged 15 and 19 believe that husbands had a right to beat their wives if they burnt the food, argued with them, went out without telling them, neglected their children or refused sexual relations.”

When I returned to Italy where I live, I developed an obsession with the story. What were the chances of a survivor still being alive? And if there were, how could they die without someone taking the responsibility to document the story?

Last year I decided I had to take that responsibility. I convinced a cinematographer to join me and we went to the lake, on self-financed adventure, to look for a survivor. After many shaky heads and crazy canoe trips all over the lake, I finally sat in front of one of them. And then, when I least expected it, another one. They were very touched by us being there.

Having secured emotionally charged interviews, there is a lot more to document. Based on the evidence, I wrote the story for a feature documentary inspired by African and local traditions. But we need the funds to complete production, which we are having a hard time to find. Due to the age of the women and the precarious conditions of their lives, we can’t afford to wait for institutional funds to get into place. So we decided to open a campaign on Ulule, an European platform, looking to raise what’s needed to get a small crew to Uganda and finish at least the part of film that concerns the women. The formula is transparent: either we reach the target, or all supporters will be refunded. You can read about the story and watch a trailer on http://www.ulule.com/punishmentisland/. Rewards are given to all contributors, depending on the amount donated, but you can support us with anything you can afford. It is important to understand that even the smallest contribution is vital for the campaign to be successful! We hope we would like to help us tell this story which can help vulnerable women in remote parts of the world to acquire consciousness of their rights.

Image by Laura Cini

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