In many parts of the world it is not uncommon to hold the belief that a woman and a man must hold separate roles. These gender roles are typical to the places in which they are practiced: the woman is the caretaker while the man goes out to work.
What if these roles were switched in the least technologically advanced places of the world, where women have had little to no education?
In the film Solar Mamas, women from Kenya, Burkina Faso, Columbia, and Guatemala attend Barefoot college in India to train to become solar-energy engineers. The documentary focuses on Rafea, a Bedouin woman living in a small village in Jordan next to a desert. The country’s Ministry of Environment has encouraged her to leave her village to attend the program in Barefoot College where she will receive training on how to wire and install solar panels.
What is significant about the film is that not only does it highlight the importance of solar energy and sustainability, but it emphasizes the power and importance of providing women with education and opportunity. In the beginning of the trailer for the film, a statistic is provided quoting that “out of the 875 million illiterate adults, two thirds are women”. Several times in the film it is mentioned that the reason why women are chosen for this program is because “a woman has patience and time and she will listen and learn.” Furthermore, while a woman will improve the conditions of her community, an educated man may leave in search of more money and opportunity.
A huge takeaway from the film was the fact that there was no narrative commentary. It gave the women a chance to express their story entirely for themselves, without the addition of an overpowering voice that many films include. Refreshingly enough, the film was strictly about the women, more specifically Rafea, not about men or a privileged individual playing the role of a rescuer. It stunningly highlights how eager these women are to succeed and become a powerful voice in their own community.
As a powerful woman, Rafea’s strengths are shown through the way she handled some obstacles with her husband. Her husband threatened to divorce her if she did not return to her village. Fear of losing her daughters brought her back but it did not take too long for Rafea to return to the college. Rafea is shown arguing with her family members about the importance of education. In a memorable scene Rafea states:
“I can’t do anything if I don’t have any skills. I want to explore the world. I want to learn. I want to see how people in other countries think and work. I want to think and work with them… I want to succeed and change the situation in the village…”
Although Rafea deals with emotional manipulation by her husband, she is determined to go back and earn her education. And she does it in such an inspirational way. This particular scene was a great way to show the gender dynamics and the way they shifted. No longer was Rafea too concerned about the cultural norms when it comes to gender roles. Rafea liberates herself by continuing her education.
Perhaps the film was a way to show Rafea’s experience with patriarchy. This is something that many women across the world deal with. The film did an excellent job in showing the ways in which Rafea and other women were empowered. Toward the end, she was able to bring solar energy to her community and train other women how to work with solar energy. By gathering the resources that she needs, Rafea was able to build herself a house.
There are many cases in which women are silenced because, as the film stated earlier, women have the patience and the determination to change their villages and communities, and as the film states in the beginning, women may prove to be better at getting out of poverty than men. The truth is, a lot of the times women are silenced by men for fear that they will be more powerful. Take Malala Yousafzai for example. Her passion for education and power lead the Taliban to try and silence her. Intelligence and power should hold no specific gender. This documentary was a breakthrough in showing that with a push and some opportunity, women are able to be the light of change in the world. In this case, literally.