Participatory theatre to fight against domestic violence
Since December 2013 the Social Development Fund of the French Embassy supports the NGO Rafiki Theatre which aims to increase awareness of gender-based violence in about ten communities in Karamoja, living near military barracks, through participatory theatre. But why resort to theatre, and participatory moreover ?
Marital violence and its cause, as infidelity or polygamy for example, are often taboos. In addition people involved in such conflicts in their own house are often reluctant to admit that they are partly responsible. In this project, families of armed forces’ members attend theatre scenes which are fictive though inspired by reality, situations which lead the public to raise doubts about their certainties. Then the participatory part, a dialogue between actors and the public, allows each one to express oneself in a friendly atmosphere and ask questions which upset although they are essential : would you be ready to do an AIDS detection test if your spouse asked you ? Which amount of money would you grant to your wife monthly for the household’s upkeep ? Isn’t it rape to impose sexual relations to your wife ? Isn’t worth to prefer monogamy to polygamy ?
Unfaithful husband, flighty woman, priest in a trance who exorcises her, violent man, rebellious woman who claims her rights … and sometimes only money, Rafiki Theatre is improvising a Molière play on an outline, as the Commedia dell’arte used to do. It’s the commedia dell Karamoja ! In order to perpetuate the project Rafiki theatre trains barracks’ inhabitants to make their own participatory theatre play on this theme as well as a local association called AWARE (first picture).
The public is never indifferent. The forty women or so and as many men are getting indignant and are laughing out loud in turn. After a shock sequence actors slow down the rhythm, the sound of a xylophone raises and voices tame. Then an actor asks the public about his reaction and invites them to take side. Why are laughing whereas a husband is beating his wife ? What would you have done is his place ? The public feels affected and answers, exchanges points of view. Women speak out what they think, some husbands pull a long face but most of them agree with that. As he understands how important it is to increase his soldiers’ awareness, Captain Ojatum, who is in charge of the barracks and of the FPU (Family Protection Unit), showed his commitment in translating the theatre play from English to Swahili with a bright smile, although he was steadily interrupted by generous burst of laugh.
Rafiki Theatre continuously challenges the deeply mind rooted idea that a “true African woman” must submit unconditionally to her husband. Women dare to express themselves, to rumble and to complain. As performances and debates go by they claim more and more their rights. Men too become more aware. Today soldiers of UPDF barracks seem to have gender based violence issue close to their heart. Within the companies FPUs gather complaints of marital violence in barracks and try to resolve domestic conflicts as peacefully as can be.
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