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Awakening the mind: street theatre takes on child marriage

A play portrays the marriage ceremony of two children in Pakistan. Photo credit: Sujag Sansar Organization.

For more insights into how entertainment – education can address child marriage, read our solutions brief.

Bedari, Sujag Sansar, Oxfam Pakistan and Aura Freedom International are four Girls Not Brides members who run street theatre programmes to address the issue of child marriage in Pakistan and Nepal. Here they share their insights on why they chose street theatre as a powerful way to awaken the minds of communities.

It’s an easy way to start difficult conversations

Street theatre works well for “an issue like child marriage, which is considered taboo in some segments of the communities” explains Sujag Sansar. Aura Freedom agrees: “It opens the door to difficult conversations in a non-confrontational way”.

And it might work even better with jokes, according to Aura Freedom. “The use of comedy in street theatre is important… it allows the audience to feel relaxed and entertained, not targeted.”

But keep your message non-confrontational, warns Oxfam Pakistan. “In a conservative society like Pakistan, don’t challenge religious sentiments straight away but share positive examples. E.g. Child marriage is interpreted from religious teachings by most of society. So it is important to frame your message indirectly.”

It’s more engaging to a wider audience

Street theatre is accessible to a broad audience. “It works for people with an education, as well as people without one” explains Sujag Sansar. Not everyone learns the same way and street theatre “engages different types of learners, particularly visual”, stresses Aura Freedom. The format also appeals to all ages, “particularly younger children with shorter attention spans”.

However, it is important to identify your target group. Oxfam Pakistan explains: “One of the biggest mistakes that implementers make is trying to appeal to everyone. Think about the game of darts: You have to aim in order to hit the board. […] Once you know your target half the job is done. Now you need to frame your message accordingly with contextualized positive examples.”

Oxfam Pakistan holds a play on child marriage in Tharparkar, Sindh. Photo credit: Oxfam Pakistan.

Tell real stories if you can

Bedari explains: “We asked victims of child marriages to narrate their stories in our community sessions, and we found that their stories had more impact than anything else.”

“One story that often moved parents was of a girl who told the community members that she was married at an early age because her parents thought she was a burden. However, she could not cope with the problems of a married life, and got divorced after 5 years of marriage. She was back to her parent’s home with three kids and in really bad health.”

“Then she asked her parents in the session ‘Have you gotten rid of the burden or have you added to your burden now that you have to feed me along with my three children, and provide for my medicine as well?’”

Where you hold the play matters

Be strategic when looking for a location. Aura Freedom explains: “Hosting performances at local schools was effective for us. They are a well-known point of reference for community members, and this ensures children are in attendance.”

“It also creates an opportunity for school staff and students to continue the discussion on child marriage and other social issues in the classroom beyond the performance.”

 

A play takes place at a local school in Kumpur, Nepal. Photo credit: Aura Freedom International

Include songs!

Equally effective, according to Sujag Sansar, is the use of songs. “Music and drum beats enthral the audiences, and words mixed with melody help sensitise people quickly”. If your song is catchy, your message will live past the performance. Sujag Sansar found that some of their songs were so popular that audience members would sing them on the streets or at other public gatherings.

For more insights into how entertainment – education can address child marriage, read our solutions brief.