As the granddaughter of a woman who fought for women’s rights in the suffragist movement during the early 20th century, the work that Heather Arnet, CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation, has done is enough to make any grandmother proud.
Her newest project, a documentary titled Madame Presidentá: Why Not Us?, examines the global power of women and specifically, the work of the first female president of Brazil Dilma Rousseff.
The goal for the film, she says, was not to point out how America has not succeeded in putting a woman in the White House. Her aim, as her grandmother so pointedly says in the film, was to figure out “How the hell did they do that?” and look at the eighteen countries worldwide who do have women in power.
Through her research, and by spending time in Brazil, Arnet has discovered several commonalities. “All of the eighteen countries have very new constitutions. Since World War II, they have either been re-written or are from scratch,” says Arnet.
When she spoke with one of the female writers of Brazil’s constitution she discovered that human rights are written right into the document. They also have paid maternity leave, and mandatory voting laws where you can’t get a driver’s license, passport or marriage certificate if you haven’t voted in the last election. Community contribution is expected.
In the United States, a country with one of the oldest constitutions in the world, we have not drastically changed the document since it was written 200 years ago. However, the average American in 2013 does not look like the average American in 1787.
What Arnet has learned and hopes to communicate to her female viewers through this film is that women’s history should not be any different or separate from our country’s history.
“We need to make sure that we are a part of our history. It is not women’s history on the side. For us to see a women president, we’re going to need to see more women setting public policy and it is exciting that we are seeing that right now,” she says.
A preview of the film will be screened at the Celebrating Women Awards Ceremony on November 16th at the August Wilson Center.