Exploring the use of creative writing and drama to tackle FGM

Published: 20 Oct 2014

Author: Sarah Penny
Exploring the use of creative writing and drama to tackle FGM

A study based on 2001 census data in England and Wales estimated that 23,000 girls under the age of 15 years could be at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) each year*. Sarah Penny, an academic in Creative Writing at Brunel University, believes that writing and dramatherapy can be used as powerful tools in empowering mothers to break the cycle.

Sarah was awarded a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, supported by The Rank Foundation, to fund her research, which took her to Kenya for five weeks.  Throughout this period she worked in tandem with the dramatherapist Paula Kingwill, whose participation was funded by the Wellcome Trust.  They initially spent a few days with the applied theatre company SAFE MAA, learning from the techniques and approaches used to open up discussion about abandoning FGM.

After that Sarah left for Narok in Central Kenya, to work with a group of women, all circumcised themselves, who have formed a collective to refuse to cut their daughters.  Although they were almost all illiterate and with no English, by working in tandem with a translator, Sarah was able to make a set of stories about the women’s lives, reflecting the experience of undergoing FGM but actively embracing refusal for one’s daughters.

Sarah then worked with two young women actors to make short plays from the testimony, finally travelling up to Maralal, a remote area of Northern Kenya where FGM is still universally practiced.  She spent a week there working with mothers and daughters, running workshops which explored aspects of community life before presenting the plays.  At the close of the project 22 mothers declared that they intended to refuse FGM for their daughters, standing together under a new motto, ‘Heshima Kwa Wasichana Kutengeneza Wanawake Shujaa!’ (the Swahili for ‘Respect For Girls To Make Great Ladies!’)

The research highlighted that, for mothers to accept that the next generation can move on from FGM, they have to feel that the decision is an organic one stemming from their own community.  Using creative writing and dramatherapy is a very powerful way of supporting families in owning their refusal, rather than seeing it as superimposed from outside. 

Sarah will be running a workshop at Brunel University in November, showcasing some of the techniques used in the workshops and looking at ways of applying the lessons learnt in Kenya to reducing FGM in the UK.

*Dorkenoo et al, 2007

For further information:      sarah.penny@brunel.ac.uk