Thursday 30th November 2017

Breaking Barriers with performance art

By Ondiege Matthew, Dance Into Space

Kogello Nyangomain Siaya County sits west of Lake Victoria. The County has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in Kenya at 24.8% - nearly 4.2 times higher than the national prevalence. Reasons for this high prevalence rate include regressive cultural practices, stigma and discrimination. Often, this affects the most vulnerable and marginalised populations, namely children, women and people with disabilities (PWDs).

PWDs in Siaya are disadvantaged on almost all fronts. Debilitating discrimination ensures they are seldom allowed to be seen or heard in public. Children with disabilities are often turned away from school, missing vital sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) education. Low literacy levels amongst disabled youth also hampers access to information on SRHR issues. Many individuals are routinely turned away from HIV and SRHR services in health facilities. Moreover, these facilities are often inaccessible due to distance, building plans or terrain.

With support from an AmplifyChange Opportunity grant, Dance Into Space designed the Breaking Barriers Project, an innovative mixed-ability contemporary dance theatre to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights of PWDs in Siaya County.

The Breaking Barriers project aims to:

  • Empower PWDs with expressive contemporary dance and performance skills for advocacy on SRHR
  • Evolve a team of disability rights advocates (DRAs)
  • Provide a platform for engagement on alternative sexual narratives by PWDs
  • Motivate PWDs to know their HIV status and use protection
  • Promote reproductive health service delivery to PWDs within the county Remove cultural barriers, taboos and stigma surrounding PWDs and their sexuality

Breaking Barriers is an experiential and experimental project, amplifying open conversations on SRHR for PWDs. Personal experiences are creatively re-imagined, and presented in open-air community forums.

Project approach and outcomes

The outcomes of the project are encouraging. The dance and theatre processes liberate participants to express themselves and share experiences without inhibitions.

The performances demonstrate equality and improve visibility for PWDs to a previously discriminating community, especially on sexual and reproductive health matters. The work enlightens and refocuses perceptions of disability and sex, dispelling cultural myths associated with PWDs, e.g. they are asexual.

The Breaking Barriers project has attracted support from like-minded partners in public and civil society sectors, including the Association of People with Disability of Kenya (APDK), the Ministry of Health (Kogello Dispensary), Siaya Young Women Alliance (SYWA), a local CBO working on youth and SRHR issues, and the local administration office. In addition to this support, the project creates curiosity for more information, dialogue, and engagement on SRHR between policy makers and the community.

Since the advent of the project, a significant increase in PWDs are seeking SRHR services at local clinics. The Kogello dispensary and clinic management trained advocates in regular health talks to address community stigma and service provision to PWDs. Participants have also reported an increase in their confidence and visibility within the community.

Michael Oturi, whose personal story featured in the performance, said the project gave him an opportunity to address his community for the first time by conducting a condom demonstration and facilitating a discussion on SRHR issues.

Another participant of the project, Pamela Jura, a single mother of three, spoke about her first sexual encounter and experience. She recalled her naivety on SRHR issues at the time and how she has since overcome the stigma of knowing her HIV status as a PLWD.

It is hoped that the Breaking Barriers initiative will be expanded and replicated in other villages, communities, and counties in Kenya.

Dance Into Space share their learning and recommendations from the project:

  • Encourage partnership with the community and other organisations to ensure sustainability and ownership of the project
  • Employ creative means to approach taboos and stigmas
  • Use participatory methods to engage participants.
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Read the full case study in the Dutch Coalition on Disability and Development (DCDD) and Share-Net publication, Everybody Matters.

Illustrations by De Beeldvormers