Theatre Brings Hope to Afghan Women
Performance at Women's Prison
Bond Street has begun a two-year Theatre for Social Development Project helping theatre groups apply their craft to education and peacebuilding. The first of four groups selected for the program, Simorgh Film and Theatre in Herat, has an unusually high number of girls in the group, a rarity in a country that frowns upon women on stage. This can be attributed to their daring Director Monireh Hashemi who, at 26, is dedicated to the cause of women's participation in theatre and determined to use theatre to reach out to women in isolated communities.
Three of us, Joanna, Michael, and Anna, worked with the Simorgh actors for one month, creating two performances dealing with family violence. We also trained 35 local youth in the art of self-expression and physical acting, with a focus on social awareness and leadership skills.
Sisters enjoy a balancing act in our Herat workshop
Most Afghans have never seen live theatre, which has almost vanished over years of war despite its long tradition. Workshops like these are an important part of the revitalization of theatre. Our goal is to use theatre to bring information to villages where illiteracy is high and people, especially women, have little access to news and information.
To reach women, we created one show performed solely by women for women, and one for men. Both plays deal with family conflict, a topic selected by the Simorgh actors as most critical. See video here.
The performances in the Women's Prison in Herat deeply affected us: women are incarcerated for alleged crimes with little access to defense or appeals. In the Juvenile Prison, most of the young women had fled forced marriages or abusive families. We came to understand that frequently the women face a situation far worse than jail if they were to return to the homes they fled.
Many of the women have their children with them in the prison -- infants and toddlers. It's sad to see children growing up in jail, and yet it clearly gave mother and child great joy to be together.
The actors also performed for 300 men in the Afghan Paramilitary Unit (ANCOP), for the local police force, at the Drug-Addicted Youth Center, high schools, women's shelters, women's Legal Aid centers, and other locations where violence has left its mark. Simorgh Theatre will continue to bring the shows to other communities.
Bond Street will work with three more theatre companies in other provinces over the next two years, helping local theatre companies to become self-sufficient. The project is supported by the United States Institute for Peace and the US Embassy in Kabul.