Pitchandikulam Forest organized two workshops for the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) funded ‘Soul of WoMen’ gathering. These events focused on the exploration of womanhood, the struggles and strengths in the feminine.
For the ‘Soul of WoMen’ gathering, two workshops were organized:
- GEN Auroville and Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG) hosted a 2 day Forum Theatre workshop on the 10th and 11th of June 2016 for a mixed group of 24 women from Auroville’s bioregion – half of whom were college going girls between the ages 16-20 and the other half were married women between the ages 25-40.
- GEN Auroville and Pitchandikulam Forest hosted a 2 day workshop on the 1st and 2nd th of July 2016 for a group of 15 mostly married women from the Amirtha/Meera Enterprises in Nadukuppam who lived in two villages quite close to each other. One half of the group worked at Amirtha and the other at Meera, both social enterprises that have emerged from Pitchandikulam Forest’s work at Nadukuppam, a village in Auroville’s bioregion.
Through Theatre of the Oppressed games and activities, the women explored what it meant to live as a woman in their semi-rural Indian context, trying to unravel the narratives, the thought patterns and societal constructions of gender. What are the stories of our lives? If they can benefit from being told, can we change the story?
The workshops were held by Ms. Afshan Mariam, a psychologist working in education using tools of drama, farming and mindfulness.
The Theater of the Oppressed, established in the early 1970s by Brazilian director and activist Augusto Boal, is a participatory theater that fosters democratic and cooperative forms of interaction among participants. Theater is emphasized not as a spectacle but rather as a language accessible to all.
Forum Theatre, one form of the Theatre of the Oppressed is a short play or scene that dramatizes a situation, with a terribly oppressive ending that spect-actors cannot be satisfied with. After an initial performance, it is shown again, however this time the spectators become spect-actors and can at any point yell ‘freeze’ and step on stage to replace the protagonist(s) and take the situation in different directions. Theater thus becomes rehearsal for real-world action.
The first workshop culminated in a play for the community at Auroville Village Action. Themes that emerged were intensely emotional – of womenhood, fear, the prevalence of sexual violence in our lives, male privilege, the role of silence and community and some of the powerlessness of the situations women find themselves in.
The second workshop consisted of women whose needs were very different. The depth of sharing required to stage a forum play could not happen in just 2 days. The group was not ready. There was a shared history between them, one bigger than their personal histories. It was a collective history formed in their villages, their culture containing layers that need time to unravel. It stopped a safe space from emerging between them and seemed to prevented the women from truly opening themselves up to the wider group.
Afshan Mariam, the facilitator, observed that what was really needed were deeper inner reflective processes and the seeds of enabling a safe space within the group for the women to share what was on their minds. The workshop then changed and evolved with the group on the next day.
Instead of staging a play we hosted a series of body awareness exercises for the women to start the process of thinking about their body and its relationship to the women around and the space itself. It was recommended that this workshop be the start of a creation of a group process where the women can begin building relationships of trust with each other.
As a follow up of these workshops, we are now starting to regularly hold workshops with the women running enterprises in Nadukuppam working with them to build trust and awareness, but also to connect to the bigger picture of their relationship to their community and bioregion. We hope that the narratives that are emerging from the women themselves will help guide the vision of their livelihood development.