Dance and theater make taboos negotiable in Burundi | Ministries

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Blog entry | May 31-2022 | BZ members all over the world

Many women and girls still have little control over their lives and their health. The Netherlands is therefore committed to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) worldwide. As in Burundi, where theater and dance performances discuss unwanted pregnancy, gender inequality and violence.

picture: Akeza.net / Le Grand Kru

With the support of the Netherlands, the theater and dance company Groupe Irivuga staged the show Les Larmes de Crocodile (crocodile). Aika van der Klej, Policy Officer for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) at the Embassy in Bujumbura, Burundi, talks about the performance.

What is the theme of Les Larmes The Crocodile?

The show revolves around important social themes, but they are also taboo in Burundi. From violence against women, from taboos about menstruation to unwanted pregnancies. By portraying this in theater and dance, Groupe Irivuga makes real-life problems open to discussion.

How has the Netherlands helped develop and professionalize performance?

Les Larmes de Crocodile It originated from a project of the Dutch organization Le Grand Cru. Supported by the State Department-funded Orange Knowledge Program, Le Grand Cru has created dance and theater performances with talented local dancers. They trained and mentored the dancers for an independent and professional company.

The Embassy then funded a national tour of Groupe Irivuga. Les Larmes de Crocodile It was conducted in all eighteen counties. They perform in market squares and schoolyards and then talk to the audience about topics that are usually taboo.

The shows attracted more than 30 thousand visitors. What makes theater and dance appropriate to discuss these types of topics?

“In Burundi, a large part of the population cannot read or write, which means that performances have a much greater scope than books and pamphlets. Moreover, performances are easily accessible, which often leads to conversations afterward, specifically on topics of performance.

Why is it important for the Netherlands to support Groupe Irivuga?

Sexual and reproductive health and rights is an important topic for the Netherlands. Performance makes people aware of the problems in this area and makes it a topic for discussion.

All dancers of Groupe Irivuga are also younger than 30 years old. Guidance helps these young people to develop and eventually start professionally. In this way, the Netherlands also supports a cultural sector that the Burundian government does not consider itself worthy of investment.

picture: Akeza.net / Le Grand Kru

I have seen the show. Which scene do you remember the most?

The moment three men forcefully command their wives, “Come here and carry me.” The wife raises her husband and lovingly puts him in another place. The man jumps up again, turns away and shouts, “Come here, carry me.” Each time, the wife carries her husband again and gives birth to him again. Until the woman falls from exhaustion.

I found this scene very confrontational, because it’s often the reality here. Women bear a great responsibility while in this society they are seen as subservient to men. They work and take care of men, family, children and the elderly. Much of the work in the fields is done by women. The scene explicitly illustrates the inferior and submissive position of women and the psychological and physical violence associated with it at times.

Gender inequality and sexuality are not actually discussed in Burundi. How did this happen?

Inequality between men and women is accepted in Burundi as simply a thing. It is not discussed. People often think conservatively and hardcore about sex. As a result, young people have little access to sex education and contraception. This has resulted in many unwanted pregnancies among high school age girls.

The population is growing rapidly in Burundi. What are the implications of that?

“A woman in Burundi has an average of more than five children. There is not enough space for these children in school or in health care. In addition, the agricultural land is not large and productive enough to feed everyone and there is no money to import food. This maintains poverty And even more.

picture: Akeza.net / Le Grand Kru

How did the Dutch Embassy contribute to Burundi?

A documentary film on Group Irivuga was produced with the support of the Embassy. We want to show this documentary in youth centers to start the conversation. Through subsequent funding for the Orange Knowledge Program, the group received guidance from Le Grand Cru to deliver the training themselves.

The dancers developed their own performance with young people in high schools. First they discuss topics that are important to them and then they make a performance together. For example, they did a show about a girl who ran away from home because her relationship was not approved. The shows discuss real-life problems faced by young people in Burundi, which no one talks about.

The Dutch Embassy in Burundi is trying to spread the Irivuga kit through its partner UNICEF in several schools in Burundi, to provide sexual education for students and youth in youth centres. It will be a great and innovative way for young people to develop and break taboos.

What is planned in the near future?

Dutch commitment to development cooperation

The Netherlands supports many projects focused on improving sexual and reproductive health and rights. Groupe Irivuga’s professionalism is an example of such support. Would you like to learn more about the Netherlands’ commitment to development cooperation? On the Department of State’s Development Cooperation Portal, you will find an overview of activities, expenditures, and results by topic and country.

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