A group of people are performing a dance number. One man is in a handstand.

Grantee stories

Breaking Barriers: ‘Artivism’ for the rights of people with disabilities

Grantee Partner: Dance Into Space Foundation

Grant type: Strengthening

Priorities: Stigma, Access

Country: Kenya

Onyango Ondiege, Artistic Director of Dance into Space (DIS), shares how his organisation uses “artivism” to change social norms and promote improved sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for people with disabilities in Kenya.

Pamela Jura is a single mother of three with a disability. Pamela is also a dancer. Through her work, she has emerged as a vocal advocate for feminism and disability. She serves as a role model for women with disabilities, offering mixed-ability dance training and mentorship.

Pamela is a company member of Dance Into Space (DIS), a performing arts group in Siaya County, Kenya, comprised of individuals with and without disabilities. DIS create inclusive dance art for purposes of education, activism, and entertainment. As “artivists” – arts activists – our work addresses various issues such as practices that lead to human rights violations, including those that target vulnerable groups like women, girls, and individuals with disabilities.

After auditions I joined the company and realised that those with disabilities also have talent in dance. Those without disability took us in and accepted working with us like brothers and sisters. This removed the barriers between us. I am now seeing myself as an ambassador for the disabled.

Pamela Jura, DIS company member

Siaya County is known for its rich artistic talent pool. The county also faces several pressing societal issues. There is a high population of people with disabilities, standing at 4.1% and among the top five counties in Kenya. Additionally, Siaya County has a significantly higher HIV prevalence compared to the national average among adults with and without disabilities. Economic activities in the county such as fishing and mining have led to exploitation and exacerbated social inequalities. These issues are intensified by Siaya’s location near the border of Kenya and Uganda, where issues such as human and sex trafficking are prevalent.

Despite these challenges, Siaya County boasts prominent personalities and potential for development. Our organisation leverages the rich talent within the community and creatively collaborates with local stakeholders to foster sustainable development through inclusive dance arts.

DANCE FOR CHANGE

A man lifts a woman up by the arms as part of a dance performance.

DIS recognize the importance of challenging and dismantling cultural barriers and taboos faced by people with disabilities (PWDs) through artistic expression and advocacy. PWDs encounter specific barriers to fulfilling their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), such as stigma surrounding their sexuality and the lack of HIV/AIDS awareness and status knowledge.

To address these issues, DIS developed the Breaking Barriers initiative. Breaking Barriers is a unique SRHR dance project that embraces diversity in abilities. This groundbreaking project equips PWDs with contemporary dance and performance skills to advocate for SRHR. By popularizing mixed-ability dances, DIS and our performers promote the acceptance and integration of individuals with disabilities into society. Our performances shed light on the experiences and perspectives of marginalised or at-risk populations.

In essence, the Breaking Barriers project seeks to foster inclusivity, empowerment, and social change through the transformative power of dance.

GROWING THE COMMUNITY

Dance Into Space set up an inclusive and disability friendly residency arts centre dedicated to fostering community development and creativity. This facility accommodates artists, activists, community development workers, and researchers who come together to immerse themselves into the community to train, exchange, create, reflect, and strategise.

DIS provides dance and movement training programs at the centre and actively engages in community-building activities and outreach efforts. Through Breaking Barriers, DIS cultivate a team of Creative Disability Rights Advocates (CDRAs) who champion the rights of individuals with disabilities.

Two people acting out a scene outdoors.
DIS use their dance performances as a way to educate the community.

DIS is fortunate to see a large following of our work both locally and digitally. Our projects have gained significant visibility, leading to a large following. Like many organisations working on artivism, our endeavours lie at the crossroads of mainstream entertainment and community service. Although we expect to make money through performances, outreach work engages the bulk of our audience, and we can’t charge entry for open public performances. Only a small portion of the public attend and pay for shows in conventional indoor theatres.

However, our increased visibility helps us amplify our message and reach a broader audience, thereby increasing the impact of our work. For example, Breaking Barriers was featured as part of an international best practice compendium on inclusion of PWDs in SRHR programming. You can read more about it here.

BREAKING BARRIERS

We adopted participatory creative approaches in Breaking Barriers as our primary strategy for several reasons:

  1. Audience and Community Building: Certain issues are still considered taboo by some communities, making it difficult to address them openly and effectively. Tackling these sensitive topics requires careful navigation and community cultural engagement strategies tailored to each context, which can be costly and time consuming.

    By involving the community in our creative processes such as open market performances, workshops, and interactive events, we aim to build a strong and engaged audience base. This approach fosters a sense of ownership and connection to our projects, leading to sustained interest and support from the community.
  2. Policy Influence: Engaging stakeholders and policymakers in our performance activities has helped create a shared understanding of the issues at hand and the potential solutions. Through dance performances, we have effectively managed to communicate the needs and perspectives of marginalised groups, influenced policy decisions that promote inclusivity, and gained recognition by policy makers at the grassroot level. For example, one intervention lead to the chief’s office in Awelo to allocate resources for collecting data on children born with disabilities at home to ensure that their births are registered.

    Through our projects, we have empowered PWD communities by providing them with valuable skills, knowledge, and resources. Individuals within these communities have become activists, advocating for their rights and driving positive change.
  3. Community Education: Some communities continue to stigmatise sexuality and disability and are slow to embrace new ideas or learn about certain issues. Overcoming deep-rooted stigma and resistance to change remains a challenge. However, we have found that many communities respond positively when approached with creative methods. Our creative participatory approach has served as a powerful tool for educating our community and helped spread the awareness of disability and sexuality rights among other rights.

    By integrating art, music, and dance into our projects, and facilitating dialogue and reflections on our dance pieces, we contribute to conversations that challenge stereotypes, break down barriers, and promote empathy and understanding within the community.
A man stands on the left side of a stage while two people sit on the ground and pour sand out of their hands.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Beyond Siaya County, our organisation and its endeavours are receiving recognition from diverse local and international stakeholders, including fellow artists, our local community, civil society, academia, media outlets, and governmental bodies. We’ve formed networks and forged partnerships with institutions, researchers, and similar organizations, both at home and abroad. These collaborations have bolstered our abilities as creative advocates, facilitating the exchange of knowledge and fostering collective efforts to advance disability rights and inclusive arts. Such acknowledgment underscores the significance and influence of our initiatives in advancing social inclusion, inclusive arts and advocacy efforts.

Building on this work, we hope to achieve the following:

  1. Deepening the impact of CDRAs: we will further empower the group of Creative Disability Rights Advocates (CDRA) by providing them with ongoing training, resources, and support to enhance their advocacy efforts. This includes expanding their reach within their communities and facilitating their involvement in policy-making processes related to disability rights and SRHR.
  2. Broadening visibility and inclusivity: we seek to expand the visibility of mixed-ability dance, dancers, and inclusive arts beyond our current reach and foster a greater appreciation and understanding of inclusivity in the arts. We strive to enhance the accessibility of the residency centre to ensure that it remains a welcoming and supportive space for individuals of all abilities. Our goal is to expand the reach and impact of the centre’s dance and movement training programs by connecting to a broader pool of global activists and creatives from diverse backgrounds.
  3. Strengthening local and international recognition: we seek to deepen the centre’s impact on community development by fostering meaningful engagement and collaboration among artists, activists, community development workers, local authorities and researchers. At a global level, we are actively engaging with stakeholders across various sectors to showcase the impact of our initiatives and advocate for policy changes that promote social inclusion and rights.
  4. Enhancing networks and partnerships: we seek to build and nurture networks and partnerships with institutions, researchers, and organizations that share our vision of promoting rights and inclusive arts. We aim to sustain our close collaborations with local stakeholders and partners, ensuring that the centre’s initiatives remain attuned to community needs and effectively tackle local issues while striving for self-sufficiency.

If you would like to learn more about Dance into Space and our work, you can connect with us on Facebook and LinkedIn, and watch our performances on YouTube and Vimeo.

Summary video about the Breaking Barriers project

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