Girls’ Globe Book Tour – Next Stop: Latin America

Join Girls’ Globe on a global book tour of female authors. We’ve visited Sweden already, and we’re ready for our next stop!

Latin America has a rich literary history. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Fuentes, Roberto Bolaño, Julio Cortazar. However,apart from a few notable exceptions, Latin America’s women authors have gone comparatively without recognition. Those who can quote Neruda’s Veinte Poemas may not have even heard of Ocampo’s Los Nombres.

Yet Latin America is full of decorated women writers who capture the culture of their countries, and the nuances of the human condition, as well as any of the male writers in the Latin American canon. A few (available in English) to start:

Laura Esquivel

“La mera verdad es que la verdad no existe, todo depende del punto de vista.”
“The truth is that the truth doesn’t exist, it’s all a matter of perspective.”

Laura Esquivel is from Mexico City and spent eight years as a teacher. Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate captured imaginations for its mix of magical realism and genre cross-over and became a bestseller in the United States and Mexico.

Known for: Como Agua Para Chocolate [Like Water for Chocolate] (1990), Malinche (2006)

Julia Alvarez

“It is a life lived with a centering principle, and mine is this: that I will pay close attention to this world I find myself in.”

Julia Alvarez was born in New York City, but her parents, Dominicans, returned to the Dominican Republic under Rafael Trujillo’s notorious dictatorship. They fled again in the 1960s.

Alvarez began writing in the early seventies, a time with Latino literature was far from mainstream. She made a living teaching high school while writing, and at 41 years old, after twenty odd years of writing behind her, she published her first novel. She lives now in the United States.

Known for: How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), In the Time of the Butterflies (1994).

Gabriela Mistral

“Instrúyase a la mujer; que no hay nada en ella que le haga ser colocada en un lugar más bajo que el del hombre…Que algo más que la virtud le haga acreedora al respeto, a la admiración, al amor. Tendréis en el bello sexo instruido, menos miserables, menos fanáticas y menos mujeres nulas… Que pueda llegar a valerse por sí sola y deje de ser aquella criatura que agoniza y miseria si el padre, el esposo o el hijo no la amparan.”
“Instruct women: there’s nothing in them that relegates them a lower place than men…That something more than virtue makes her worthy of respect, of admiration, of love. Instilling this in the fairer sex will leave them less miserable, less hysterical and less empty…it will let her come to value herself for herself alone, and cease to be that creature which agonizes and suffers should her father, her husband or her son not protect her.”

Mistral, whose real name was Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga, was a Chilean poet. Her career is said to have started when she was a teacher in a village after a relationship which ended when he, a railway worker, took his own life.

Her writing took her from teaching to the Chilean consulate, and actively involved in culture and education in the region. The Universities of Florence and Guatemala awarded her honorary degrees, and taught at the United States at Columbia University, Middlebury College, Vassar College, and at the University of Puerto Rico. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945.

Famous for: Sonetos de la muerte [Sonnets of Death] (1914), Desolación [Despair] (1922), Ternura [Tenderness] (1924).

Look out for the next stop on the Girls’ Globe Book Tour…coming soon! 

Cover photo credit: Brigitte Tohm 

How Music and Theatre are Educating Young People in Uganda

Last Wednesday (March 8) marked International Women’s Day. The energy and effort within the women’s rights movement has clearly not slowed down from 2016. Events like the Women’s March on Washington (and the ripple effect that that has caused worldwide) as well as the consequent A Day Without a Woman campaign have showcased the creativity and inspiration that emerges when women come together to express their views on what they believe to be right and just.

Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) has been working to set the stage in Uganda for spreading messages on sexual and reproductive rights and health (SRHR) and gender-based violence (GBV) through creative means – music, dance, and drama. The initiative proves that the performing arts are an effective medium of ‘edutainment’ – challenging gender norms and creating spaces to discuss sensitive topics.

As a community-centered organization, it made sense for GUIU to partner with Plan International Uganda for a youth-focused program called Ni-Yetu (translating to It Is Ours in Swahili) – operating in five districts of Uganda. In Kampala, Ni-Yetu has introduced two activities to spread messages on SRHR and GBV- music campaigns and drama group performances.

Performing arts are a lighthearted but powerful way of conveying information with serious undertones that sticks with people; they are more appealing to the younger generation than traditional health marketing and are more easily digestible and interactive. These types of events also bring together the community in one place at one time to amplify issues.

Music is very popular among young people, and plays a key role in their socialization, learning, and behaviour adaptation. GUIU sought out lyrically talented young people to participate in an awareness campaign in Kampala, named “Positive Talent! Music Talent Against Child Marriages and Teenage Pregnancy”. The intention was to unearth local talents and promote positive behavior change messages based on the theme. 

GUIU held the music campaign, together with Plan International Uganda, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), and the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Community Development in November 2016. 76 young people attended the orientation to compete in the competition, of which 30 returned with music demos. A panel of judges selected the best 10 songs, and later gave the artists the opportunity to produce their song to be performed in the grand finale. The grand finale was a huge success, with a venue packed with over 800 youth excited to hear the songs and vote on the winner. It was evident that these young people truly love music, and that this is one of the most effective ways of delivering messages on SRHR and GBV.

Beyond the edutainment of the Ni-Yetu Project, GUIU has also produced our own songs on the rights of adolescent girls so that we can reach a larger audience with our messages on gender equality. These songs can be found on our Soundcloud station and on local radio stations. We’ve been working with upcoming artists to increase awareness, support young people’s talent, and provide a platform for young people to advocate for youth-friendly services. This year we will be hosting a Charity Concert with PJ Powers aka “Thandeka”, one of South Africa’s most famous recording artists.

Another approach being used by Ni-Yetu Program is to reach out with information and skills on SRHR and GBV through forum/community theatre conducted by youth drama groups. Forum theatre is a type of drama which encourages interaction between the audience and the actors. GUIU, together with Straight Talk Foundation, trained and supported two youth drama groups to conduct forum theatre performances in communities and schools.

Interactive drama performances allow youth to critically explore their life experiences and better understand  why they behave and act in certain ways. It attracts a diversity of community members who share their knowledge and practice decision-making skills. This approach is a unique way of making information and knowledge accessible by acting out relatable real life situations. This triggers reflections and generates discussions that has the potential to transform traditionally-held societal and cultural beliefs around SRHR and GBV.

We all have a role to play in promoting gender equality, so let’s consider new approaches of spreading awareness and knowledge in our communities through the performing arts. We live in a visual and auditory age, where music, dance and performance are effective mediums for knowledge transfer. At Girl Up Initiative Uganda, we look forward to further exploring the power and impact of various forms of ‘edutainment’ as a behavior change strategy to reach youth throughout Uganda.

Cover photo credit: Girl Up Initiative Uganda 

Access to Justice: A Change is Going to Come

Now I am free. A female sex worker and child. Photo Credit: Laurenz Paas for Theatre for a Change
Now I am free. A female sex worker and child.
Photo Credit: Laurenz Paas for Theatre for a Change

Written by Catriona Cahill, Development Officer, Theatre for a Change

In 2012, the United Nations Population Fund revealed that around 34% of the 52,000 female sex workers living in Ghana have had an unprotected sexual encounter with the police against their will.

Just over one-third of all women in Ghana have experienced physical violence; the majority of women report that it is most often a sexual partner committing the crime. With sexual violence already prevalent throughout society, just imagine how it is intensified within the industry of sex work where women feel they must necessarily subordinate themselves to their clients.

Yet, with only 9% of female sex workers in Ghana reporting a non-discriminatory standard of treatment from the police, it is no wonder that only half of them would consider seeking justice after suffering any form of abuse. Statistics such as this make a strong case for advocating for the rights of these women: the right to report abuse, the right to access justice and the right to live a life free from fear.

The current project by Theatre for a Change working with female sex workers in Accra is titled Access to Justice.  Twenty women from two of the poorest communities, Old Fadama and Railways, are participating in the project which first focuses on behaviour change, then advocacy, then access to service provision. Everything about Theatre for a Change is rooted in participation; all projects take place in circles; performances are always in the round. This approach stems from the philosophy of Augusto Boal, author of Theatre of the Oppressed. Boal believes that, through theatre, ‘the oppressed’ can explore and identify solutions to their own problems; change comes from within.

When I first visited Accra in March, the Access to Justice Project was in its infancy. Within the four-walled security of Jamestown Community Theatre Centre, the women were just beginning to explore and show symbols of change: alterations in how they held themselves, a greater eagerness to speak. Together, through improvisation, role play and enormous trust, they began to identify their own risky behaviours and explore solutions.

The community gathers to listen to an interactive radio drama Photo Credit: Theatre for a Change
The community gathers to listen to an interactive radio drama
Photo Credit: Theatre for a Change

As the project has moved forward, the women have become empowered to enter into their communities and tell their stories to the people who need to hear them the most: the police service, the brothel owners, the clients, the men. They play out scenarios that their audience can identify with and invite them to step in and change the course of events.  Together they explore alternatives and discover solutions while attitudes are challenged and changed. Here we see further elements of Boal’s philosophy creep in: Theatre for a Change does not remove the actors from the spectators – dividing walls that Boal said were symbols of oppression – instead the audience is encouraged to participate. ‘The walls must be torn down’ Boal demands: the oppressed are making theatre their own.

Just a few weeks ago, the walls were torn down in spectacular fashion as the once closed doors of Jamestown Community Theatre Centre were flung open to welcome brothel owners, chiefs and members of the community for a radio listening club. Together the group sat in solidarity to listen to the women participate in an interactive radio drama, broadcast across Accra and the Central Region, highlighting the rights of sex workers.

The changes I witnessed back in March were just a part of this bigger process. I just hope these changes continue to grow and seep out into these women’s lives. I hope a change is going to come for them and their communities that means that they can live without penalty or fear. And I hope these words of one of our former participants will soon be echoed by them all:

‘My first strategy was to stay away from him…then he will lay ambush and attack me in town….one day I mustered courage and looked straight in his eyes like you taught us to have eye contact when we want to be assertive and shouted back at him for the first time and he just left me there without touching me. Previously I could not look him in the eyes or talk back at him…now I am free.’ – Program Participant

About the author:

Catriona Cahill lives in London and worked behind the scenes in commercial theatre for four years before joining Theatre for a Change in 2014. She was based in Ghana for four months before joining the UK team as Development Officer.

To find out more about Theatre for a Change’s work in Ghana or Malawi please visit their website or follow us them on twitter.

Inspiration and Hope on World Refugee Day

Approximately 75 to 80 percent of the 50 million refugees in the world today are women and children.

It is widely understood that life as a refugee is a constant struggle. However, rather than focusing on the countless hardships refugees endure, I want to use today, World Refugee Day, as an opportunity to shine a light on amazing female refugees that refuse to be silenced or lose hope.

In Kenya, over 500,000 refugees take shelter at Dadaab Refugee Camp, making it the largest camp of its kind in the world. However, the camp’s massive size does not come close to the extraordinary strength, determination and courage of its people.

Meet 18 year old Koswar Asad Warsame. Like many young girls around the world, she loves poetry.  In the videos below, Koswar reads her extraordinary original poetry – poems of both empowerment and sorrow.

In “My Future Will Never Go With My Home,” Koswar questions the true meaning of home and demonstrates a wisdom and talent beyond her years.

My Future Will Never Go With My Home 

I am a Somalian child

who is homeless.

My home is taken

but my future will never go with my home.

I am an African child

who survived for long time.

For how long shall I be mistreated?

For how long shall I move from country to country?

Home is the best.

My future is my home.

In “Peace Must Prevail,” Koswar waits for Peace and questions Peace’s absence from her life. 

 

Peace Must Prevail 

All people of the world,

listen to my bitter saying of lamentation.

The pain and clamor of nation,

I cry for the finishing light of my future

lost in conflict.

Peace, you are the only cure of our pain,

the only solution.

Peace must prevail.

 

Thousands are killed and thousands are displaced.

Our dreams to be doctors, teachers, and lawyers

had all been squashed like a thunderstorm in flash.

There is no way to peace.

You are the way.

Peace must prevail.

 

Peace, Peace, Peace,

where are you Peace?

You are very sweet but

never taste you.

You are the best friend but

never meet you.

You are very beautiful but

never watched you.

Dear Peace, why have I miss you?

I am hungry and thirst for you.

I hope for peace.

The black man’s peace.

Peace must prevail.

 Although powerful, poetry is not the only artistic outlet employed by Dadaab refugees. One Somali mother empowers and inspires through song. “Buranpur,” a poetic prayer, calls for an end to widespread violence and suffering in exchange for a rebirth of mercy and peace.

Similarly, in the video below, Somali women take part in a traditional Somali song and dance, bringing energy, hope and happiness to the dusty streets of Dadaab.

Although the above examples focus solely on Dadaab Refugee Camp, rest assured that similar stories of hope, empowerment and courage exist among refugees all over the world.

The plight of the refugee does not serve as a refugee’s entire life story, but only a small chapter. Once the world, as one, advocates for peace, we will see an end to the suffering.

After all, Peace must prevail.

Photo Courtesy of Dadaab Stories
Photo Courtesy of Dadaab Stories

To learn more about organizations working to empower refugees around the world, please visit the following:

Dadaab Stories

International Organization for Migration

International Rescue Committee

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

Refugee Council USA

Women for Women International

Women’s Refugee Commission

 

All examples derived from DadaabStories.org