WOMAN on VICELAND proves that youth-focused television need never compromise on depth, insight, or flair

This thought provoking series has a fitting place in the schedules on International Women's Day, says Sarah Carson

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International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate women and the progress of feminism in some spheres and parts of the world, while recognising how endemic gender inequality is elsewhere.

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It seems fitting, then, that VICELAND – which launched on Sky and NOW TV last year – should choose to premiere its new series WOMAN, from feminist activist and writer Gloria Steinem, the day we recognise the achievements and hardships of women across the globe. 

There is still a dearth of factual television documenting the lives of women; WOMAN reminds us that it is rarer still to let women and girls tell those stories themselves. The series – which premiered in the USA last year – will shine a light on the lives of women in both the developed and developing world: a team of female journalists explore issues as diverse as sexual assault in the US military, violence against women in El Salvador, the murders of First Nations women in Canada, and child brides in Zambia.

The first episode, which airs on VICELAND tonight at 9pm, introduces us to members of the FARC in Colombia – the Revolutionary Armed Forces which, until February this year, were embroiled in a civil war that lasted nearly 50 years. The programme is informative, captivating and unflinching, particularly for the majority of us with little knowledge of the intricacies of Colombia’s history. Reporter Alice Speri – engaging, measured and incisive in her observations and lines of questioning – joins members of the militia in the Colombian jungle, to experience the realities of living in the FARC.

Life for the rebels is complicated and difficult – Speri seeks to understand the women – many of whom have been part of the movement since early adolescence – and what drives them to be part of the militia, without judgement or condescension. Her approach is intimate, and empathetic, as one woman cheerfully tells her, “It’s normal to have a boyfriend – like if you were a civilian” – though the film’s most galling moments come from revelations about the unthinkably cruel treatment pregnancies.

Perhaps even more thought-provoking than life within the FARC is the film’s look at civilian life outside it, as women reintegrating into Colombian society frankly discuss the way an intersection of wealth, class, and race, factor into how successful civilian life becomes. WOMAN examines, with balance and real acuity, a startling world for women of our own generation – and VICELAND again proves that youth-focused television need never compromise on depth, insight, or flair.

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WOMAN opens tonight on VICELAND at 9pm, and will continue to air back-to-back episodes Sunday nights at 9pm