In the French-speaking countries of West Africa, young girls and women organizations carry out remarkable work in the fight against gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual violence. They are increasingly exploring innovative ideas to back up traditional awareness-raising methods as forum theater. In Burkina Faso, Initiative de jeunes pour le développement – IJD (Youth Initiative for Development), an association supported by the Feminist in Action Fund for its project on Sensibilisation pour la scolarisation et le maintien à l’école des jeunes filles et des jeunes femmes dans la province du Sanguié (Awareness-raising for girls’ and women’s education and school attendance in the Sanguié province), recently began an innovative venture to combat GBV.
WHAT IS FORUM THEATER?
Forum theater is a method designed to give participants and spectators the tools for emancipation and autonomy, enabling them to understand their environment and act to change it. It therefore has a strong political dimension. This method is increasingly used by those involved in popular education.
Forum theater aims to explore problematic situations. By involving the audience, it opens up perspectives, “putting oneself in the place of”, experimenting with possibilities, mixing points of view and putting them into action. These elements are created on the basis of a pre-defined situation, in which the general framework of the scenario and the roles are defined.
THEATRE AS A MEANS TO RAISE AWARENESS
IJD organized awareness-raising sessions in five communities. They chose theatrical performances as their primary communication tool to draw attention to sensitive issues. To engage their target audience, IJD takes over public spaces where they put on plays on GBV and the sexual and reproductive health rights of young women and girls. Whether based on actual or fictional facts, these plays usefully bring together a broad audience. These awareness-raising sessions have attracted over 400 people per site, representing more than 2,000 visitors.
A FORUM FOR DISCUSSION
These plays are a powerful way of introducing the discussions around GBV. The debate occurs after each performance through a mini-forum, enabling spectators to reflect on the violence men and women have experienced in their villages. They talk about forced marriage, child marriage, abduction, rape, sexual deprivation, verbal abuse, threats, sexual rights, and girls dropping out of school. Then, they discuss ways to prevent the recurrence of these acts.
“This is a great way to engage people in solving societal ills. The forum is a chance for them to voice their opinions on various situations, find solutions together, and make commitments,” said IJD President Zalihata Tamboura.
“Gender-based violence is still a reality in our villages. This project led to more in-depth discussions on GBV, helped identify specific problems, and got people actively involved in seeking responses. It would be beneficial to replicate this project in the future, considering its relevance and the great interest aroused by these performances,” said BAKI Honorine, IJD’s Organizational Secretary.
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