World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development

UN Trust Fund grantee honoured for its theatre for social change

Date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Sistren Theatre Collective drama group after a performance at the South African Women's Day Celebration. Photo Courtesy of Sistren

The Sistren Theatre Collective, a grantee of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, has been internationally honoured with the Otto Rene Castillo Award for Political Theatre , given to organizations globally that “extend humanity's social imagination."

In its 35th year, the Jamaican women's organization was recognized for its enduring work for social and political change using artistic expression. The awards ceremony was held in New York on 20 May 2012, on the eve of the International Day of Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development .

In Jamaica, women and girls commonly experience violence in both the public and private spheres. Sistren has long used theatre to contest gender roles and break the stereotypes assigned to women and men, with the aim of ending violence against women in the country.

The Collective has worked amongst many of the most volatile communities in Jamaica's capital city, Kingston, where community and intimate partner violence are widespread. With the support of the UN Trust Fund, it has reached over 5,300 people with participatory learning techniques. By blending community mobilization, life skills building and performing arts, such as street drama, Sistren has empowered communities to take action against gender-based violence.

Popular media, socio-cultural norms and folklore perpetuates the notion of the physically and sexually aggressive man in Jamaica. Through its efforts , Sistren works with men and adolescent males to challenge and redefine these negative notions. It creates safe and supportive spaces through theatre in which participants are encouraged to explore alternate expressions of manhood and womanhood. This is done through school-based activities , but also through “street-corner reasoning sessions that engage “at-risk males in discussions at popular meeting points.

This is not the first acknowledgement of Sistren's ground-breaking work. In 2010, the organization was granted a Puma Creative Mobility Award for its street theatre project, “Tek it to dem & rise up wi community, also supported by the UN Trust Fund. The award recognized Sistren's engagement with residents in six inner-city Kingston communities on issues of gender-based violence. The award provided funding for the project leader to share his work with other Caribbean leaders in academia, activism and the arts at the 2010 annual conference of the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA).