BY REBECCA AGULE
On Thursday, March 8, 2007, in celebration of International Women’s Day, the Harvard Human Rights program, in conjunction with HLS for Choice, sponsored a screening of Rosita, a documentary following a nine-year old Nicaraguan girl, impregnated by a rapist, and the attempts of her parents to obtain a therapeutic abortion in the strongly Catholic country.
Rosita tracks the girl’s struggle chronologically through interviews with her parents, as well as the lawyers, doctors, psychologists, priests, and journalists who played a role in the case. The story opens with her parents working as coffee pickers in Costa Rica, when Rosa, as she was named by the press, is raped by a neighbor while on her way to school. The accused rapist, who is never tried and ends up serving only three months of preventative detention, is shown in short, slow-motion footage, walking, and smiling.
Though highly unlikely given her age, Rosa becomes pregnant, a fact that doctors did not disclose to her parents until almost the end of the first trimester, initially diagnosing her with kidney troubles. Even as the pregnancy progressed, physicians insisted that a nine-year old was perfectly able to carry a child to term, and STDs dangerous to Rosa were left untreated, for fear of the impact upon the unborn child.
Unable to comprehend the situation, Rosa is quoted as asking her mother, “What does it mean that I am pregnant?” and apologizing repeatedly to her parents.
The film then navigates the seemingly endless hurdles and barriers confronting Rosa’s family, including governmental and religious agencies attempting to take the child from her parents, and bureaucratic delays that simply shifted the issue from committee to committee as the pregnancy advanced. Even after the designated Nicaraguan committee returned a ruling that the decision to abort would be left to Rosa’s parents, the Minister of Health issued a proclamation that no clinics would be allowed to perform the procedure.
Finally, the family found a clinic willing to provide the abortion, which went smoothly for Rosa. Afterwards, the family and those performing the surgery were excommunicated by the Catholic Church, a sentence which was then taken up by the international reproductive rights community and turned into the “I, too, want to be excommunicated,” campaign.
While never actually picturing her, the film depicts Rosa as a very normal young girl, a bright happy child whose artwork provides powerful imagery as the story progresses. The filmmakers animated these drawings and paintings, bringing childhood games, farm animals and children to life. Very distinctly, the tone of Rosa’s art changes, becoming darker as the trauma and instability around her increase.
Filmmaker Janet Goldwater was on-hand at the event to introduce her work. Following the showing, she answered audience questions and concerns. Calling herself “first and foremost an advocate,” she offered a free copy of the film to an audience member willing to show it to others. Goldwater has partnered with Barbara Attie since 1990, and the producer/director collaborators have made several documentaries, mainly focusing upon women’s and reproductive rights issues.
Goldwater said the decision to hide Rosa’s true identity was very deliberate. “Even if we had permission, it would have felt exploitative,” she said. Drawing connections to the American paparazzi, Goldwater went on to describe the competition among the Nicaraguan press to obtain the first picture of the girl’s face.
When asked about the current situation for other girls, Goldwater pointed out that Rosa had a powerful support system within her family and among the activists and physiologists who became involved with her case, something not available to most young women and children. Even with those protections, Rosa feared returning to school for quite a while, and even now avoids discussing the event. A member of the almost exclusively female audience added that, in many rural areas, parents keep their daughters home from school, scared that they will be raped on the walk there and back.
While centered around the reproductive issues involved, the film also touches upon the social tensions between Costa Ricans and Nicaraguan laborers, the power of the Catholic church throughout the region and its influence on the governments of both countries, and the impact of the press upon the privacy of individual citizens.
Observed since the early 1990’s, International Women’s Day falls annually on March 8. The day is marked by events throughout the world, meant to inspire women and celebrate their achievements. These activities range from business conferences to rallies, government activities to networking events, and even include craft markets, theater performances, and fashion shows.
Several countries have designated IWD as an official holiday, including Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.