How can theater help communities understand and address the causes of gender-based violence? ArtCorps Artist Naphtali Fields and Oxfam America’s youth and women’s groups in El Salvador are building an innovative model for women’s empowerment.
When Naphtali first met them last year, the women laughed at the idea that they could ever perform in public. Twelve months later these same women produced and presented two plays that questioned the disparity between boys’ and girls’ value in the community.
The newly formed youth theater troupe also flourished, performing at festivals and regional youth gatherings. As the young playwrights created dialogue about sexual harassment, together they uncovered a new understanding of gender-based violence — and a powerful means of raising awareness about these issues in their communities.
Although the process of empowerment and change can be slow, there are many signs of rising youth and women’s leadership among participants. By participating in a creative learning space, the women have begun to take risks, develop a collective voice and break patterns of silence and passivity. They have proudly defended their group in front of powerful men in the village, and set ambitious goals for 2012, including opening some workshops to men. “We’ll be looking for even more women to be in the group and we’re going to get even more done next year!”declared Niña Aracely, a woman Naphtali would have described as timid a year ago.
Just like the women and youth Naphtali is training, ArtCorps is focused on sustaining their efforts and accomplishments. In this second year of our partnership, in addition to continuing to build the groups’ leadership abilities, Naphtali will be creating a training handbook so that partner staff can replicate the empowering workshops and techniques she has developed and tested.
This project is made possible by the generous sponsorship of New England BioLabs.