This weeks theatre and campaign was in the Bobin neighborhood of Peguy Ville, a high density community with a maze of narrow alleyways and a mix of permanent and informal housing. The neighborhood has a high level of domestic violence and this was evident from the moment we arrived and began to arrange our posters and banners. We were immediately challenged by a group of young men which set the tone for the next two hours. Many of the participants were intimidated by the level of hostility which was misogynist with the men insisting women were bad and therefore needed disciplining. Rea Dol and the Bobin community leader, Rosaline Fabre Derival, did engage with the men prior and after the performance which was on sexual violence within the family.
We broke up into groups of 5 / 6 and spent an hour walking through the neighborhood handing out leaflets and talking mostly with women but some of us did approach men. Again the majority of men were hostile to us and we had a sense that the women in the community were intimidated. One man actually told us he was going to beat his wife that evening just because he felt like it.
The performance itself drew a much larger crowd than in Jalousie partly because we had a traffic free space. However we were unable to engage in a Q&A afterwards as once again a small group of hostile men argued with our organizers for over an hour. We did encounter two young men who were positive and thankful for our visit but none of the women engaged with us at the time. This is something we will reflect on and consider how to approach communities with a high level of hostility and a culture of violence.
We had an additional mid-week performance on March 8th where we invited some 200 women of different ages to attend an afternoon of theatre and discussion. The women were drawn from SOPUDEP partner organizations which includes about 15% men. The two plays were on domestic and sexual violence and each lasted 20 minutes. We then spent time discussing violence with many of the women standing up and giving testimony about their own experience and also about their organizations and how they have been a great support. We served 204 high protein meals and drinks to the visitors and our group members.
Some of the audience responses to the theatre might be difficult for non Haitians to understand for example laughter during scenes of violence. However for residents of Bobin, violence is an everyday reality and as such the street theatre performances were familiar and it is in this context that the audience sometimes respond with a ‘knowing’. We were also pleased to note that 50 + Bobin women did attend despite the risk to them personally. If each one had a positive experience which we believe they did then they will discuss their experiences with other women who did not attend. In this way we will continue to reach an ever-growing number of people.
The campaign is just beginning but from the response we have had we are confident we have begun to make the necessary impact which is why it is crucial that we are able to continue the program. Women have come up to us personally requesting more training, on VAW, fathers have come to us and asked please can their daughters join the program and to thank us for highlighting the issue of domestic and sexual violence.
It has also been a learning process for the students involved both in terms of understanding sexual and physical violence but also in organizing a campaign and working together as a group. IT has not always been easy as students wake between 4.30 and 5am and we have had to practice into the late afternoon. Finally this has been an opportunity to commune together, have fun, consider serious issues and not only eat good nourishing food but also share that with family members and friends.