A series of stage plays is encouraging women in Nepal to fight prejudice and discrimination in their local communities.
Text: Teresa Grøtan
Photo: Read Nepal
These performances are not based on work by well-known dramatists, but are written in cooperation with local focus groups in order to identify problems directly affecting their areas.
Subjects have included domestic violence, female property rights, polygamy, alcoholism, drug abuse, infidelity, trafficking, environmental protection and girls’ education.
This two-year project has been pursued by the Read Information and Resource Centre (Read Nepal) in collaboration with the Norwegian Amateur Theatre Association, and with financial support from the Kavli Trust.
“I’ve had a very difficult life, and I don’t want my children to experience the same,” says widow Goma Bhusal after seeing a play called Citizenship performed in her village.
“I’m going to fight for my rights. My voice will be heard and my rights won’t be breached any longer,” she declares, and heads at once to an office to get the papers needed to fight for the inheritance from her dead husband.
“Daring to express your views loudly and publicly hasn’t been a natural thing to do in rural Nepal, particularly for women,” says Helen Hansen, general secretary of the theatre association.
“They’ve now been emboldened to get to grips with more or less taboo subject, and to talk with fellow citizens about issues they want to have clarified.”
An important reason why the theatre can be so effective is that few other sources of information usually exist. Moreover, many of the villagers are illiterate. That means they cannot use the centres with books and newspapers established by Read.
The project has also provided training for young local actors, reading and writing courses for villagers, capacity-building for women’s groups, and lessons in sewing, gardening and animal husbandry.
A number of the 25 young actors who have been involved in the productions have received new offers of work both in film and on TV. The theatre group is also in demand from local communities.
“I’m the same person, but with a new identity,” says cast member Manju B K. “I’ve become a leader, I can create stories about problems and make plays out of them.
“I’ve started educating children in my local community, and people are beginning to appreciate the work I do.”
“The project has made a big difference to the better for an incredible number of people, particularly women and girls but also men and boys,” says Hansen.
“Best of all, the theatre group is ready for new assignments. They’ve understood, and are very proud of the fact, that they can influence their own society to become a better place.
“In other words, I’m so proud of this project that I feel like I’m fit to burst.”
See also this attractive video about the theatre and its performance of Witch, and the effect this has had on the local community.
Read more about Read Nepal
Read more about Helen Hansen and the Norwegian Amateur Theatre Association’s initiative to support its Nepalese partner in building a new Read centre – in Norwegian only.