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Artistic Expression Helps Sierra Leonean Women Dealing with Sexual Assaults

According to the 2019 demographic and health survey, about 62% of Sierra Leonean women aged 15-49 have experienced physical or sexual violence. A research project sought to examine how different performing arts mediums can open up discussions about this sensitive issue. While various performing arts techniques have long been used to mobilise social transformation, we simply sought to start conversations about violence. Researchers found that people (particularly women) were much more active in discussions around violence when these were linked to a performance. They were able to access information much more quickly, primarily based on audiences seeing themselves in the performances. This approach also helped them to learn about the everyday experiences of women and the different ways they feel and address physical and emotional pain in these communities. Traditionally, theatre for development or applied theatre is interventionist. Performance techniques are used to achieve behavioural change and to promote messages around public health or education. They worked across three communities in Bombali District, in northern Sierra Leone. Two different performance workshops – each focused on a different type of performance – were delivered to each community. The goal was to establish whether different performative modes led to different kinds of conversations around sexual and gender-based violence.