Using theater to break the silence around sensitive hu­man rights issues and provide legal rights education


Tactical Aim: 
Country or Region: 

The African Resource for Integrated Development (Réseau Africain pour le Dévelopement Integré, or RADI) educates women about the law and their legal rights about domestic violence. Through theatrical sketches and informal, paralegal-led discussions, the community learns about the protective legal resources available to them. Through the use of theater, RADI aims to break the silence around domestic violence in Senegal.

Domestic violence, especially of a sexual nature, is a taboo subject in Senegal, and is rarely reported to authorities. In a country where ninety-five percent of the Senegalese population are practicing Muslims and many believe that religious law permits some forms of domestic violence, RADI needed to find an effective way to raise awareness regarding newly passed legislation. Because illiteracy is rampant, and because theater has experienced a remark­able resurgence, RADI chose theatre as the means to enhance its ability to reach its audience, raise awareness on domestic violence issues and make people aware of available resources.

RADI brings in well-known actors who select women from the audience to join them in 10-minute improvised sketches portraying scenes of domestic abuse. The spontaneous actions of the women and the audience mem­bers reveal their familiarity with these situations. The sketches are left unresolved in order to allow the paralegals to facilitate discussions on possible remedies and options that can be taken to address the domestic violence situation. The paralegal also makes sure to present the legal resources available and the penal and civil penalties for violence.

RADI draws on two important cultural resources in its tactic. First, theater is already a widely accepted and well-understood method of teaching in Senegal. Second, the programs are organized around mbottayes, traditional informal gatherings of women that generally guarantee very good attendance at the group discussions. RADI reports that most participants in the theater and discussion sessions not only learned more about their own rights but also passed this information along to family members and friends.

For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

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What we can learn from this tactic: 

RADI's tactic is notable in that it identifies the needs of a sector of society that is isolated not by geography, but by cultural norms. When looking for community needs, it is important to be aware of aspects of society and culture that may create human rights issues, such as domestic abuse, that are invisible to an outside observer. Also important for this tactic are its use of existing cultural and social structures--theater and mbottayes--which make participants more comfortable. The entertaining aspect of theater adds to the tactic's appeal. Finally, this tactic shows an effective use of follow-up. The theatrical presentations may themselves be informative, but the subsequent sessions with paralegals make clear the women's rights and the recourse they have should those rights be violated.

Human Rights Issue: