Domestic drama: Women in Congo using theater to end violence
April 2, 2012 by Sinziana Demian
|IRC-supported women's organizations in Congo are using community theater to raise awareness about pressing issues like domestic violence. Women at an International Women's Day Celebration in Bunagana, North Kivu Province act the roles of a model family, where everyone gets along nicely. Photo: Sinziana Demian/IRC|
As day broke, 35-year-old Bernadette* ardently started preparing for the big celebration—International Women’s Day—an event held every March 8 to raise awareness about violence against women. She donned a new pagne, a dress made from traditional waxed-cotton fabric, mounted her young baby on her back, and hurried to meet several dozen other women at the village center, walking with a light step and a smile on her face.
“Almost every day we hear of someone being attacked in the fields,” says Bernadette. “And then so many of our friends and neighbors suffer at home, beaten by their husbands.”
While there is not much they can do about unknown assailants, the women in Bunagana decided it was time to push back against domestic violence. Bernadette and about 70 other women in her village had become active in a community-based organization supported by the International Rescue Committee. Apart from gathering every week to learn to read and write, sew and knit, and save money to invest in small businesses, they began to raise awareness about pressing issues like domestic violence. This year, the women marked March 8 on their calendars, convinced that International Women’s Day would be the best opportunity to have their voices heard.
|A woman from Bunagana acts the role of a husband angry at his wife when presented with fufu for dinner. (Photo: Sinziana Demian/IRC)|
|A woman acts the role of a wife coming home from the fields, carrying her baby and firewood on her back -- only to be met by an angry husband who starts beating her up. (Photo: Sinziana Demian/IRC)|
“We wanted to show that it does not take much to have a good family atmosphere,” says Christine, another member of the Bunagana women’s group. “Women just want to be respected and treated properly. Luckily, we are beginning to see a positive development. More and more men come to see our plays and they realize that a change in attitude does not cost them anything.”
In Bunagana, Christine’s husband, Faustin, confirms that men are slowly starting to embrace the messages promoted by the women’s group. He says that he himself has witnessed several instances where men who had beaten their wives at home were later admonished by their peers at the pub. He admits, however, that local traditions “in which only men count” will take years to change.
Faustin is proud of his wife’s work and dedication to the effort, however, and hails projects that give women a true voice.
“She is more independent now,” he says. “She also comes home with so many great ideas, and we can talk about all our family issues. We have eight children, so it’s very important that we think about their future and find solutions together.”
*Names have been changed in order to protect identities.