September 2020 Learning Exchange

Black and white photo of a hand clutching a piece of fabric

‘Let It Down With Our Agonies’

Photo Credit: Tumisang Khalipha

Creative Responses to Gender-Based Violence in Africa

Sept. 3-4, 2020

by Bonface Beti

Bonface Beti, based in Kenya, was part of the core organizing team for the Learning Exchange.

The event was organized by IMPACT, a global initiative strengthening the contributions of arts and culture to conflict transformation. This Exchange was co-convened by 11 African organizations: Amani's People's Theater, Dafadoy Collective against Violence against Women and Children; HeForShe, Just Associates, Noon Creative Enterprise, Partners Global West Africa - Senegal, Search for Common Ground Africa, Senegalese Council of Arts, Shayisfuba Feminist Collective, The Timbuktu Center for Peace Studies and The Visual Arts Network in South Africa.The African Virtual Learning Exchange was successfully held Sept. 3-4, as a collective dialogue between practitioners in the arts, culture and conflict transformation ecosystem (ACCT). The conversation focused on use of creative responses to gender-based violence in Africa; it was designed for artists, cultural workers, art and social transformation workers, practitioners of conflict transformation processes, researchers, academics, donors, officials and public policy makers working in this field.

The organizations came together to create this exchange driven by their conviction that there's a need to think together about what challenges gender-based violence (GBV) poses in Africa. This was born out of strong and shared conviction that arts and culture can contribute in a powerful way in the transformation of conflicts related to GBV given the richness of the cultures found in Africa as unique resources in understanding ways to address the underlying drivers. Therefore, the Virtual Learning Exchange focused on creative approaches to preventing and responding to gender-based violence throughout the African continent.

This Learning Exchange on GBV also aimed at bringing together participants from Africa working on this common topic and its diaspora for a vibrant discussion through four main themes: Patriarchy and Women's Rights; Forms and Spaces of GBV; Creative Ways of Addressing Gender-Based Violence; and, Complexities of Cultural Approaches to GBV. Each of these themes is explained in detail below. Through these themes, convenors and co-convenors planned to have all the participants in the Learning Exchange think through what creative artistic and cultural approaches applicable to GBV in the African context may look like. Key questions were developed in concert with all co-conveners and shared with participants in advance, focusing on the main themes and their relevance to African contextual and current lived experiences.

Quality of Participation and Discussions

Almost 170 participants took part in this two-day Exchange in both Anglophone and Francophone discussions. They came from across Africa and the globe (diasporas plus allies/friends). The theme of Patriarchy and Women's Rights garnered the highest number of comments on the first day, followed by Forms and Spaces, and the Creative Space was well utilized. On the second day the theme of Creative Ways of Preventing and Responding to GBV was most popular, followed by Complexities of Cultural Approaches to GBV. On this day, the Creative Space was highly utilized by participants. Their participation was continuous, open, and thoughtful. Conversations took specific thematic directions and went beyond the key questions including the offering of many practical resources and examples from various contexts shared by numerous participants. The diversity, commitment and specific devotion to the topic of GBV across the African continent was palpable by many participants with emotions seeping through at times. There was a sense at the end of participants wanting to stay connected to each other as a way to begin to embody and put this collective feeling into action for the future.

During the Exchange there were discussion boards provided in the platform on each of the themes above, with specific questions to guide learning together over two full days. Participants were encouraged to share their experiences and thoughts about creative responses to GBV using these themes as a focus to enable deeper and nuanced understandings of the themes and the diverse regional, cultural, and occupational perspectives that informed it. In addition to the discussion boards, the Learning Exchange offered participants a space for their creative expressions, where they could upload a link to their own creative expressions, including original works that responded to the discussions as they evolved over the two days There was also a space called Ideas for Next Steps in which participants could propose and share ideas for future collective projects as conversations triggered new thinking. There was space for healing during the Exchange as well, a virtual site for participants to breathe and be mindful of their own feelings.

The Exchange curated a small selection of poems, songs, images and stories that offered opportunities for healing, reflection, meditation and relaxation. If participants wished to share any thoughts or feelings in writing, peer healers were present in this space for 12 hours a day to respond. Quotes from the Learning Exchange, without names, were sent as regular updates to participants during the event. It was acknowledged throughout that the coronavirus situation in most African countries is making the GBV situation even worse. This triggered intense explorations and the sharing of creative responses, conversations, new insights and perspectives regarding the envisioning of the future, and thinking about advocacy with funders and policymakers to secure resources for the arts, culture and conflict transformation ecosystem and its creative responses to GBV.

About the Core Team

Boniface Beti

Boniface Beti is an interdisciplinary practitioner academic who specializes in application of theatre-based interventions with grassroots communities to transform conflict and create a story of peace. Since 2004, working with Amani Peoples' Theatre and with the Green String Network he has utilized these tools in conflict in Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, U.S. and Canada among others. He uses all these approaches in a culturally relevant way working with community members to reflect deeply on complexities of historical trauma and social conflicts. The main objective is attaining critical emancipatory peace where community members are reclaiming their human agency through such processes.He holds two MA degrees, one in International Relations from United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, the other in peacebuilding from the University of Manitoba, Canada and Graduate Certificate in Use of Arts in Peacebuilding at Canadian Peace School. He's currently admitted into a PhD program in use of Expressive Arts in Conflict transformation at European Graduate School in Saas Fee, Switzerland.

Emilie Diouf

Emilie Diouf is an assistant professor of English at Brandeis University where she serves on IMPACT's Leadership Circle. She specializes in Anglophone and Francophone postcolonial African literatures and film with an emphasis on gender, feminist theory, trauma and cultural memory. Her publications have focused on the interdisciplinary study of the relationship between narrative, trauma, and human rights. She is interested in culturally specific approaches to engaging the trauma of gender-based violence in public memory. She interrogates how gender-based violence figures in perceptions of political injury, justice and public memory. She is currently completing a book manuscript that analyzes strategies deployed to contest conceptualizations of trauma that have failed to address human rights abuses against forcibly displaced women in Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Cameroon. Attuned to African women's experiences of violence, forced displacement, and humanitarian intervention, Diouf's project asserts that women's experiences of trauma are crucial to reading, understanding, and transforming socioeconomic and political crises on the African continent and the international community's responses to them.

Refilwe Nkomo

Refilwe Nkomo is a Johannesburg based multidisciplinary artist, curator, educator and community organizer creating cultural and artistic interventions, programs and installations using various mediums including performance, video, text and dance at the intersection of arts and social justice. Her research, workshops and performance have been the recipient of numerous awards and presented in South Korea, Ghana, Botswana, Brazil, Germany and the United States of America. She has founded and co-founded numerous platforms including "We Are Here" (WAH) founded in 2010, a non-profit organization working with men and boys to dismantle gender based violence and "Izindlovu Collective" which uses arts for social and transformative change. She holds a MA in arts and politics, is a Clore Chevening Fellow and currently serves as the director of the "Visual Arts Network of South Africa".

Susan Mbula Kilonzo

Susan Mbula Kilonzo is an associate professor of sociology of religion at Maseno University, Kenya. Her doctoral and master's degrees are in sociology of religion. She also holds several post-doc training certificates in gender studies, peace & conflict studies, political economy analysis, policy engaged research, advanced research methodology, case writing & teaching, among others. Susan has held research fellowship positions at: The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK; New Europe College, Bucharest; University for Peace (UPEACE), among others. Through these fellowships and other research engagements, Susan has over 50 publications — journal articles, book chapters, books and research reports. Susan's current research engagement is on community/grassroots peacebuilding approaches among communities undergoing religious and ethnic conflicts in Kenya and Sudan.