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.
Drama group performances
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.