Close to 200 people came out to the film screening of the 2023 Academy Award Winning movie for Best Adapted Screenplay, "Women Talking" written by Steinbach author Miriam Toews. A story about women who were sexually and physically abused by men in a Mennonite colony in Bolivia from 2005-2009. The movie is a fictitious rendition about the secret discussion the women had about what they were going to do. 

Genesis House Executive Director Ang Braun explained why it was important to show the movie, followed by a discussion panel. 

"We brought it in, because I think it does strike a chord with our community, in the sense, it is people like us. They are Mennonite people who are conservative and have some struggles. In this film, the biggest one is, the fact these women have realized they have been drugged and abused sexually and physically."  

While the story is based on real events, the contents of the film, though fiction, also strikes a chord with the work of Genesis House, which supports women and children who are victims of domestic violence. 

"In real when this happened, the men were arrested, they were charged, and they did go to jail for these rapes. I think where the fiction and the nonfiction kind of clash here is, the women in this, (I don't want to wreck it for anyone,) but they really contemplate leaving the colony. And that is a lot easier said than done."  

When the lights came up, following the movie, there were people wiping their eyes and a quiet murmur emerged as sharing and discussing the film started.  

On the discussion panel were Marilyn Toews, Don Dueck and Sally Marsolais. Marilyn grew up on a Low-German Mennonite colony in Belize and has worked for 12 years for Genesis House, Dueck volunteers with the Caring Dads Program through CFS, Marsolais is the Networking Program Supervisor for CFS who works along-side Low German families in South Central Manitoba and is the first generation in her family off colony. She noted she is proud of her Mennonite heritage. 

 All three panelists remarked on the relevance of the movie to the work they do in Southern Manitoba and the struggles families in this area, who are dealing with domestic abuse, have when trying to break the cycle and find wholeness as a family. 

Braun confirmed this is a growing part of their work at the shelter. 

"The amount of abuse that we see, the way women feel trapped in that is real. From a cultural perspective, it may not seem like it should be really holding people as tight as it is, but the truth is, if the women in this colony and in this movie believe their salvation lies in whether they will forgive their men for this atrocity or not. That is really holding them an unsafe place." 

During the discussion, panel family members, neighbours, spiritual leaders and each community member were encouraged to report abuse, although it can feel like a betrayal, it is often the first step of safety with the goal of making everyone in the home feel safe and find healing. It was then expressed that it is important to be part of the support team to help the family work with CFS to help the family get the help they need. Fear is often a factor for women not seeking help. Fear of losing their children, fear of retaliation, and fear of the unknown, to name a few. 

Tina Fehr-Kehler and Genesis House ED Ang BraunTina Fehr-Kehler introduced the film and helped plan the event with Genesis House ED Ang Braun

The event, although free, brought in $2500 in donations for Genesis House. Braun was encouraged by the turnout and the show of financial support.  

"I was so thrilled to see so many people in the building which just made my heart sing in the sense that what I had hoped for was that the community would show up and say, ‘We do support this. We support Genesis House. We support the community that is dealing with this abuse and the patterns of this abuse over generations.’” 

When asked what she hoped would come of a night like this, she replied, 

“I think the biggest take away I have is, I hope this isn't the only conversation that happens about it. I hope it trickles down into the places that can change some of the culture to put safety first, to put openness first, over power."  

Braun concluded by noting the Caring Dads Program which was run through Genesis House is no longer run through the organization due to a lack of funding. This program was a place for men, who are abusive in their homes, to find a safe place to talk and gain tools to change their behaviour, to make their home a safe place. She would like to see it resume again. 

To learn more about the work of Genesis House, or to find help from abuse, go to the Genesis House website.