16 Days of Activism: Play seeks to broach taboo of domestic violence

News Stories, 3 December 2008

© UNHCR/A.Shahzad
This domestic drama in Losar Sharfu helps to drive home the anti-violence message through the use of a female impersonator.

LOSAR SHARFU, Pakistan, December 3 (UNHCR) It's not every day you see a man in a burqa, the sky-blue head-to-toe cloak most commonly worn by Muslim women in south-west Asia.

Seated in front of an audience of Afghan refugees, he towered over his fellow actors and spoke in a gruff voice. It took a lot of imagination to see him in character as a "wife" in this play about domestic violence, but it's a cultural compromise needed to raise taboo issues in this conservative community.

Last Thursday, Struggle for Change (SACH), a Pakistani non-governmental organization (NGO) funded by UNHCR, staged a drama performance for Afghan refugees in Losar Sharfu village of Pakistan's Punjab province. The event was part of the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign that runs from November 25 to December 10 every year.

"Domestic violence is a sensitive issue and we can get into trouble if we approach it directly," said Khalida Salami, the Executive Director of SACH. "Theatre is a tool to raise awareness in a way that is easy to understand for the Afghan community."

To reach out to a community that works long hours in the nearby brick kilns, the NGO brought the play to their doorstep and staged it in front of the local mosque on a hill overlooking the fields.

"This is a story of two partners who lost their business but coped with it in different ways at home," explained Abdullah, the scriptwriter who also acts as a teacher in the play.

The all-male audience watched as one actor vented his anger on his family. He scolded his wife for her cooking, slapped his son and threw out his books. In contrast, his business partner went home, gave thanks for his food and spoke calmly to his wife. As their teacher-friend, Abdullah reminded them that the Quran teaches people to love each other.

"I am fully confident that after watching today's drama on stopping violence, Afghan people especially the men will live in peace and calm," he said afterwards.

Shepherd Said Omer Khan agreed, "I've learnt two things after watching the drama first that we should not fight over small issues and second that we should not ruin our domestic peace and then we will have a normal life."

Haji Mohammad Shah, an elder of the Afghan community in Losar Sharfu, agreed. "A life full of fights is not a life," said the 61-year-old livestock trader. "From now on, we will try to spend our lives in peace and keep anger out of the home."

Similar plays will be staged next year for Afghan refugee women to help them understand their rights within the community and family.

By Asif Shahzad in Losar Sharfu, Pakistan