At the Human Rights Film Festival, the trials of Ethiopian women who give birth. By BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM.

CHILDBIRTH sounds painful enough, without having to worry about giving birth without any medical or institutional help. That’s precisely what happens to millions of women around the world, and the documentary A Walk to Beautiful looks at a particular consequence of this lack of care. Mary Olive Smith’s documentary examines the medical condition of fistula, which leaves many women in the world incontinent, leaking urine and faeces uncontrollably. The resulting societal discomfort at these women’s conditions leads to them being ostracised. And the sad thing is, it’s not too hard to fix, but countless women are forced to endure the discomfort and the shame.

The documentary focuses on five women in Ethiopia, a vast, breathtakingly varied land with little infrastructure. As a result, women off the beaten track struggle to get proper medical care. Compounding this, the documentary says many women work from a young age, carrying things that affect the body’s growth. It’s not hard to see that a baby might struggle to escape from a compacted body, and tear things on the way out. The five women travel to a hospital in Addis Ababa, which specifically deals with the operation that assists in sewing up the fistulas. The women are compelling figures, and their stories are told with compassion. Little touches of humour escape to humanise the characters too, especially near the end, when their lives have been changed.

The documentary could have done with a lot more context, which probably was difficult considering the hands-off approach that the director took. Maybe some historical or more emphasis on the societal factors that contribute to the exclusion of these women would have assisted in giving a clearer picture. It was hard not to see this documentary as creating this sense of “backwards Africa” in need of saving by “the chivalrous white man” (the doctors). It’s also patronising having perfectly understandable Ethiopian figures speaking in English with subtitles. That said, there was some striking imagery, and it’s hard not to be moved by these women’s experiences. This is clearly an issue that benefits from exposure, the highlighting of an easily preventable problem that cripples and subjugates millions of women worldwide.