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Oxfam brings Mekong communities’ perspectives to the stage

Mekong Forum Theatre participants

By Pauline Taylor McKeown, Mekong Regional Program Manager.

Local communities can be resettled as a result of the building of dams — and it effects men and women differently.

Recently the the Oxfam Mekong Water Governance team became actors to show a global audience of more than 300 scientists, researchers and global experts meeting in Phnom Penh why ensuring gender inclusion is so important in community participation.

Using a technique called Forum Theatre, the Mekong Regional team played out three scenes to a workshop at the conference to demonstrate  power dynamics and what happens to women and men during resettlement as a result of building dams.

We saw community protests and powerful stakeholders confronting each other and we saw domestic violence and women struggling to hold the family together in resettlement sites miles from the market.

The technique is more than role play. It invites the participants to stop the play at any stage by ‘stepping in’ and taking a role of one of the characters to see if a different strategy can change the outcome. Despite their academic background, the audience was very active and ‘stepped in’ often, leading to a few minutes of experiential learning that spoke to the heart.

This experience was followed with a brief summary of Oxfam’s Gender Impact Assessment tool (GIA) which will help the private sector to assess gender at each stage of project development and provide them with software to make the analysis and solutions more time efficient.

The Oxfam team spent one day preparing the scenarios with a Forum Theatre facilitator; building on partner relationships and our own-day-to-day understanding of the experience of communities we work with.

Forum Theatre originates from the ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ developed in South and Latin America in the 1970s. Oxfam is finding it has a significant resonance for many of the communities we work with.

Oxfam works closely with local partners on the ground to effect positive, long-lasting change. Learn more about Oxfam’s work in the Mekong.