By Shaheen Quresh, President, Blue Veins
In last few months some of our recently implemented activities include the following:
CHALLENGING MINDSETS THROUGH INTERACTIVE THEATRE
Ten interactive community theatres were organized in five districts including Nowshera, Charsadda, Peshawar, Mardan, and Swabi recently. The interactive community theatres helped engage a broad range of audience members including youth, men, women, and girls. The events helped increase the thinking capacity of the audience to analyze power relations at the family and community levels and realize the need to progressively shift these power relations towards equality.
The theatre performances covered topics related to sexual and gender-based violence at family and the broader community level, and also focused on identifying the problem of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), all of which meant to inform – on social issues surrounding women.
These performances were used as a tool to engage the public to confront important social issues that remain unaddressed in regards to women.
In doing so, the performances indirectly encouraged individuals to seek solutions to their own problems. Large numbers of the population living in the rural areas of the target districts live below the poverty line. As a result, a majority lacks education; this lack of education is seen with social problems such as family planning, domestic abuse, marital rape, child marriage, honour killing, and gender stereotyping issues.
A majority of society has come to silently accept these social concerns, relying on tradition to justify the use of violence in families or the growing the number of children in impoverished households. Through interactive theatre performance work, we have have sought to reverse this situation.
The goal of the theatre performances were not to change but to transform the community by challenging their minds and by enhancing their critical thinking capacity. The performance, participation, and the interest of the community in theatre activity proved that it was a well calculated strategy to arrange theatre performances in the areas where it is rare to witness such events. Furthermore, problems concerning women are usually overlooked and brushed aside.
Engaging the Audience
The theatre performances were interactive in nature. After the actors would perform a story representing acts of gender violence, the cast would start engaging the audience in a conversation about the events that took place on stage, as well as the acts of violence that regularly take place in the community. The audience was asked:
What went wrong here? What would you have done differently? What should have been done? What actions are not acceptable for the peace and progress of society?
After the discussions, the performers would then portray a new version of the story with a positive outcome, reflecting the feedback they get from the audience.
Shifting Attitudes on Violence Against Women
The theatre programme helped to bring a shift in attitude that an act of violence against a woman is not only an attack on a woman, but is also an attack on the entire community in the eight communities it has reached, through urging the audience that they personally have a role to play in preventing violence against women.
During the process of performing their plays and interacting with the audience, the audience and the performers alike actively discover and process the impact of violence against women on society. As a result, the programme is cultivating new agents of change by enlightening and empowering youth to identify and eliminate violence against women. They learn that despite their age, they can play a key role by raising awareness and catalyzing change in their communities, beginning to shift the cultural norms that enable violence against women.
Overwhelming & Positive Responses to Take Action
The response of the community to theatre was overwhelming; they appeared in large numbers to watch the theatre performances.
The response of community was very useful to evaluate that interactive theatre is a very useful tool, the audience reflected that through the theatre performance they were able to identify themselves with the characters of the play, which made them feel the agony, pain and suffering as well as joys of the characters. As a result, what the play’s characters learn is also learnt by the audience as well. It results in a change in the way the people perceive that particular issue, which leads towards a change in behaviour afterwards.
Drama achieves what endless sermons cannot.
The feedback on the interactive theatre is very encouraging, the performances of the interactive theatres has left its mark most significantly on its audiences. As a result of these performances that touched the hearts of many of the spectators, local communities, individuals, and groups – they will take action to solve their problems and issues related to will no longer remain a personal or family matter.
Teen Says 'No' to Child Marriage
For example, after an informational play on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), a girl of 15 years of age went home and said NO to child marriage and informed her father that he cannot marry her off until she is 18.
Mother Treats Daughters Equally Now
Another woman reported that the theatres helped her change her attitude towards her daughters because she was able to understand how gender stereotypical images of the girls in the house negatively affects their life and self-esteem. Her thinking has changed significantly and she is treating her daughters equally.
She wants her house to be example for her neighbours, community and relatives.
A Man Speaks Up in Support of Women
Reacting to one performance in the district Mardan a male audience member felt violence against women affects the men, family, and the entire community:
“The violence against women and all forms of sexual and gender-based violence affects men, too, and it often has disastrous effects on the male family members. Men should realize it and work to prevent all forms of violence for a violence and stress free life”.
Theatre performances, in other words, have challenged audiences to re-think conventional, deeply rooted beliefs about issues such as man and wife, gender roles, power dimensions, violence at family and community levels – and its impacts, etc.
TRAINING OF THE TRAINERS ON WOMEN'S LEADERSHIP
Fifty grassroots activists were trained on leadership skills. The training of the trainers (TOTs) provided a unique opportunity to women to meet, network, and learn from each other. The objectives of the training workshop were to increase participants’ understanding of women's leadership and strengthen their capacity as women leaders in their communities so that they can further empower women in their respective communities as agents of change.
Women activists who successfully completed the TOT have started to form Multi-Purpose Committees (MPCs). The trainings of trainers (TOTs) enabled them to learn that violence against women and girls can be systematically addressed, reduced and, with persistence, women leadership at levels can play a very significant role in it.
Following were the objectives of the TOTs:
- Appreciate themselves and appreciate one another as leaders and change agents through the strengthening their
- leadership skills on issues related to gender based violence.
- Explain gender concepts.
- Explain leadership from gender perspective.
- Link gender based violence/ violence against women to human rights.
- Practice a communication for advocacy against gender based violence and develop an action plan for networking.
The expected outcomes were skilled and competent women leaders who are able to facilitate participatory community–based initiatives and action through forming Multi-Purpose Committees (MPCs) on human rights, gender and women’s rights, to prevent and respond to cases of sexual and gender based violence.
The Learning Process
The learning process included a two days' training workshop for each training and the observed outcomes of the workshop were that participants: cherished and recognized the importance of the great work of women activists in relation to women’s rights and gender based violence, increased their confidence level, and helped them identify tools and mechanisms to assist women in overcoming obstacles they face – with a particular focus on the most vulnerable to discrimination and violence, and tried to highlight policies that provide women in these communities with the support, guidance, and opportunities they need to become agents of change.
They gained the basic knowledge on leadership and understood the issues related to gender and gender-based violence and how it is linked with human rights and development. The participants developed the confidence and skills to facilitate participatory community discussions and learned about the importance of women's leadership from the gender perspective, the need to network and collaborate, and its significance.
We assume that the training workshops will enhance women’s participation and leadership in various spheres of social interaction and decision-making within their communities and also in the broader society – and strengthen their role in preventing and responding to GBV.
The workshops emphasised on playing a part in creating conditions for the fair and balanced treatment of both men and women in our society as women’s leadership does not need to signify men’s loss of leadership, participation, or power.
Only true leadership leads to greater choices for everyone.
Plan of Action
Formulating a Plan of Action (PoA) was one of the important parts of the TOTs. Following are the set of activities which came forward as a plan of action by the participants of the workshops.
- Formation of Multipurpose committees (MPCs).
- Gender sensitization of men.
- Gender sensitization of prayer leaders.
- Baseline survey of SGBV in community, its prevalence, identification of its types and how it is affecting community.
- Identification of support and protection mechanism.
- Meeting relevant police station officer and create linkage.
- Identification of protection mechanism and creating of a referral mechanism.
- Updating media on GBV cases in the community.
- Formation of women self-help group.
- Encouraging men to work with men on issues of GBV.
- Creating women friendly spaces in community.
- Identifying and promoting women's leadership in area.
- Identifying and providing leadership opportunity for women.
- Making women politically active.
- Reporting women success stories to fight the stereotypical image of women in society.
- Amplifying women voices and encouraging emerging leaders.
- Create new model of leadership.
- Educating community on different forms of sexual and gender-based violence and how it affects the household, community, and society.
Quotes from the Participants
“By participating in this training I have realized that even ‘ordinary’ women can be leaders and this is very empowering.”
Shaista Bibi (Peshawar)
“I realize I have leadership skills that I did not know I had before.”
Safa Baseer (Mardan)
“I feel confident, I feel like a leader.”
“I feel confident, I feel like a leader.”
Amina Khan ( Nowshera)
During the two days training workshop the following topics were discussed:
- Defining Gender
- Gender and differentiating it from sex
- Gender Based Violence and Violence against Women
- Group Work (Typology GBV and VAW) and Presentation
- Communication and its importance as an activist
- Who is a Leader
- What is Leadership about
- How am I a leader in my life
- What is my Vision
- Principals of Leadership
- Leadership Qualities
- How to Empower others
- Profile of a women leader (traits and relevance)
- Women Leadership dimension
- Group Work (Action Plan)
Sustaining Multipurpose Committees
Follow-up visits and communication reflects that 43 Multipurpose Committees (MPCs) are successfully established, having representation from male members of the committee and have started their community outreach program to raise public consciousness that violence against women and girls is neither inevitable nor acceptable.
The MPCs are functionalized to prevent Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in their communities and will also work a referral to the survivor of violence to interlink them with the available support services including private shelters, psychosocial support, legal aid and vocational trainings. Blue Veins core staff will continue to provide the relevant assistance required by the MPCs for example information on available services and protection structures, shelters, helplines, laws and policies as required by the each Multipurpose Committee (MPC).
Blue Veins is working to interlink the formed MPCs with organizations working on SGBV and other women's issues, which will contribute in the sustainability of these Multipurpose Committees.
MOVE CIRCLES - MEN OVERCOMING VIOLENCE FOR EQUALITY
Encouraging Healthy Behaviour
In recent months, 10 Men Overcoming Violence (Move) Circles were organized in which 215 men participated. All participants of the MOVE circles were adults and their ages ranged from 18 – 65 years.
The MOVE circles underlined the importance of spreading the ethos that violence against women is not the behaviour of a “real man.”
The MOVE circle was a first-time platform for the men with violent behaviour to address their violent behaviours; through the programs they examined their attitudes and how it affects home and community. The MOVE circles have encouraged healthy behaviour among men and how can they help themselves and other men in their community as role models.
The MOVE circles have a meaningful objective of involving men to reduce violations of women’s rights. It helped men understand that justice can be provided by those who do injustice because they have the power to do both – and this is where their role as men starts and this assumption serves as the base of the campaign. It is therefore important to engage with men and boys and work with them as stakeholders – and believe that men, even in instances where they are not part of the problem, can bring forth the solution.
Exploring the Concept of Masculinity
The MOVE circles helped participants to explore the concept that masculinity doesn’t lay in using power against women. Rather, it lies in channelizing this power for the construction of a better future for themselves, their children and the society on the whole. The participants were helped through discussion and meaningful activities to realize that Violence Against Women (VAW) is often called “women’s issues” only but in reality, this is intrinsically men’s issues — and shows how these violent behaviours are tied to definitions of manhood.
The beneficiaries of the MOVE circles expressed their views that often, boys and young men are taught to equate masculinity with the use of violence and dominance over women and girls. Too often, such behaviour is met with silence and is tolerated by other men.
This only serves to normalize gender inequality and negative stereotypes and ultimately affects men.
The MOVE circles gave a very strong message to the men that they deserve a peaceful home and a peaceful society; they must change and leave behind their violent behaviours and enjoy the change, and once they feel that this change is meaningful and has positive impact in their lives, they must come forward to defy destructive stereotypes, embrace equality, and inspire men and boys in their community to reject violence and speak out against violence, as they can act as positive role models for young men and boys, based on healthy images of masculinity.
Ready to Take Responsibility
MOVE has engaged men with its understanding of men's violence that it is learned, and can therefore be unlearned.
MOVE is working with men to make them understand that it is the responsibility of each individual to stop his/her violence and break the silence which harbor this violence in community. The engagement with men has given hope that the initiative will be successful beyond our anticipated expectation and will help men change.
We are optimistic that MOVE circles give a loud and positive message that the ice surrounding the issue of men and Violence Against Women (VAW) can be melted, as there are a significant number of men who are ready to take responsibility for their violence and are willing to make efforts to change their attitudes and behaviours. As a result, the safety and well-being of women and their children who are experiencing, or have experienced violence/abuse in an intimate relationship can be improved.
The participants of the MOVE circle gained knowledge on the gender dimensions which prevail in our community and made a list of habits and action which they need to change before they participate in the next circle and agreed to share their challenges, strategies and result during the next MOVE circle.
The participants also showed interest in initiating healthy dialogues on the issues which fuel conflict in their homes and community and start communicating on these issues in rational, healthy, and nonviolent ways.
The MOVE circles are engaging men in three stages which are:
- I am recognizing my violence.
- I am rejecting my violence.
- I am preventing violence.
Consequently MOVE is working with men and boys to help them:
- Take responsibility for their violence and learn how to stop it.
- Learn healthy ways of expressing themselves and learn alternate ways of expressing strong feelings safely.
- Learn to spot danger signs of violence.
- Understand gender roles and their socialization as men.
- Lead violence-free lives and break out isolation.
- Learn to build healthy relationships in family and society.
Redefining Male Roles in Healthier, Nonviolent Directions
The MOVE circles engaged men in a quest for emotional and social literacy, in the practice of respectful attitudes and treatment towards others, and in the development of constructive means of conflict resolution. The initiative is enhancing men's leadership and partnership with others in order to promote models of positive masculinity and individual integrity, while dismantling patterns of personal and societal violence and fostering social equality.
The MOVE circles helped men to understand that real men do not violate or oppress women. On the surface, it may seem that men benefit from sexism – from this system of male dominance, control, and violence. There is need for the men to understand that sexism harms men as well as women. Sexism, and more specifically violence against women, harms men because it harms the women and girls in their lives, and because it keeps them from having positive and loving relationships with women.
The MOVE circles reflect that several men who attended the program and continuous motivation by field staff were moved by the ideas they heard about regarding redefining male roles in healthier, nonviolent directions. They returned home inspired to create an anti-sexist environment.
It is a very healthy sign to find that many men were keenly interested in putting old stereotypes of masculinity to rest and start a relation and role in family, community and society which is positive and nonviolent.
We are continuing MOVE on the community level in the limited districts and we are finding and looking for ways to not only continue but also how to expand this program.
NGO CRISIS FOLLOWING PESHAWAR SCHOOL MASSACRE
Last December 2014, at least 141 people, including 132 children and nine staff members of the school, were killed when unidentified armed men opened fire on an army-run school in Peshawar.
Later, the responsibility was claimed by Threk e Taliban. This attack is one of the biggest national tragedies in Pakistan and will have short and long-term impacts on the work of civil society in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Pakistan.
In the wake of the Peshawar school massacre, the government of Pakistan – under the pressure of civil society, has decided to formulate a curriculum for Madaris (Islamic seminaries) and registration of religious madrassas across the country, and also the government has issued non-bailable arrest warrants of lal Masjid (red Mosque) Khateeb Mulana Abdul Aziz under the First Information Report (FIR) registered under section 506 (2).
After the killing of 150 students in a school in Peshawar, civil society and NGOs have challenged the role of mosques and religious leaders in our society and have initiated an aggressive “reclaim your mosque” campaign which is leading towards confrontation because the religious institutions and religious leaders are feeling threatened by the NGOs.
The mosques throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Friday prayers have been buzzing with anti-NGOs sermons where religious leaders are calling NGOs as elitist and corrupt organizations with no accountability, dependent on western funding, and promoting western agendas and promoting alien values. The feeling is growing amongst community and religious leaders that NGOs are deliberately maligning imams and mosques with the instructions and funding of their “western masters”.
There is growing unrest among religious leaders and their supporters in the community and the current situation and feelings, if unaddressed, will lead to further division among NGOs and religious civil society. This will further increase the existing gaps and it will have short term and long term security and operating challenges for NGOs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The Home and Tribal Affairs Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has already intimated to the security agencies that because of the current situation, the NGOs are under threat and the have information that anti-NGOs sentiments are growing alarmingly and there can be possible attacks on NGO workers and leadership; therefore, NGOs needed to remain closed and shut down their activities for 12 days.
We think this is a serious crisis and could lead to a further catastrophe.