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Acting and Reacting

Nancy Hawthorne
Second-year master of divinity student

One of the largest challenges in discussing rural women's issues is to engage a group to address all the systemic issues involved and the intersection of gender, race, and class. The best intersection of ideas I participated in was a parallel event hosted by the United Methodist Women at the Church Center for the United Nations. The event, "Rural Women's Concerns: What Do Gender, Race, Class Have to Do with It?," engaged participants in a discussion using the work of Augusto Boal and his theatrical form known as the "Theatre of the Oppressed."

I do not have space to explain fully Boal's work, the history of the movement and the ways it is lived through the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil, but I will share with you the basic concept of Forum Theater. Through Forum Theater, a group or community addresses a specific, oppressive situation by improvising a play. When the play is acted out, they ask for volunteers from the audience to re-act the play, trying to have a different result. Despite the serious issues, the point of this type of drama is to be overly dramatic and fun, thus allowing a group of people to think critically about systemic issues, share in the story of another person, and find solutions in community.

Many of the women at the event shared tragic and challenging stories of their personal oppression. The stories involved violence, hunger, and lack of access to education as a female-bodied person. The oppression is stronger for an indigenous woman or woman in the minority culture. We acted a Central African woman's story. It was about a 12-year-old girl traded for her hand in marriage for a cow and some rice so her family would not starve. She did not speak her husband's language and experienced extreme violence in her new home.

As we acted and re-acted the story I thought about two well-known verses. First, Matthew 5:5: "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." The meek are the people in society with no power to make their voice heard. They are never taught to challenge the system or work through their intimidation, so they sit in silence. Jesus promises in the Kingdom of God that the earth will be theirs to use as they need. At this event and others, I heard about grassroots organizations empowering women to farm without genetically altered seeds and pesticides. I also heard about organizations educating girls and programs to assist women forced to sell their bodies.

Second, Matthew 5:6: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." These are the people who burn with desire for things to be made right. The thrill of this commission was to meet many women experiencing and trying to eradicate extreme injustice in the lives of rural women and their families. The theatre of the oppressed was established by a group of people literally hungering and thirsting for justice to maintain their land, farms and homes in Brazil. The kingdom of heaven is a place where even the most terrible atrocities are restored and the emptiest bellies filled.

Read other reflections from Nancy's blog.
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