Kenya saw a jump in cases of gender-based violence (GBV) during its COVID-19 lockdowns, which heightened social and financial stress. To address the problem, Kenyan authorities are turning to the dramatic arts.
At the Kenya's National Theatre in Nairobi, some 65 young people are putting their acting skills to use, as part of Kenya's latest strategy to educate the public about the evils of gender-based violence.
Titled “A Little Girls Worth,” the one-hour play by Kenyan playwrights Derrick Waswa and Tommah Sheriff, is a new production co-sponsored by the Ministry for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs. It tells a story of how despite their extraordinary contribution in society, women suffer disproportionately.
Derrick Waswa, the play's director, said the goal is to sensitize the public on violence against women, which he said stems from cultural beliefs that a woman is part of a man's possessions.
"Basically people are blaming the violence and not looking at the cause. What we are trying to explain is that the African cultural nature has made women to be submissive. From the bible, you are told to submit to your husband as it is to the Lord, and in this African set up where a man has to pay dowery for you, it means they are technically purchasing you," he said.
A February 2022 report by the Kenya Federation of Female Lawyers (FIDA Kenya) shows that cases of gender-based violence rose sharply during the pandemic, to the point where they made up nearly half the cases reported to the federation.
Authorities attribute the rise in these cases to the pandemic and the economic losses it caused.
The play premiered this month with a three-night run to audiences of 350 at the National Theater.
Audience members like Samson Osoro expressed hope that the dramatic arts will help change men's mindset.
"This play will go a long way to also sensitize especially the men, who may be so unwelcome or harsh to our ladies, to know that ladies are also very important as men are. As a father I would really wish for my daughter to be treated in a better way than during the time of our mother and grandmother," he said.
Njeri Migwi is the founder of Usikimye, an organization working to end sexual and gender-based violence in Kenya. The group’s name means “speak up” in Swahili.
Migwai told VOA that programs such as door to door campaigns will reach more people, but said the play is a step in the right direction.
"Art imitates life and so for the government to use that as a means of educating... one of the things that I have been very passionate about is calling the government to start educating people about the importance of them being aware of GBV and how to acknowledge one of the forms. So the government putting up the effort to put out a play is amazing," said Migwai.
No further dates are set, but youth affairs authorities are hoping to show the play in social halls across the country.