By Maggie Jeffries —

“The personal is political” has been a rallying cry for feminists since the 1970’s when Carol Hanisch wrote an essay with the same title. Women Thrive Alliance is a feminist network for gender equality advocates around the world and the work that we and our members do is a reflection of this statement. The personal is political is an essential component of feminist thought because it gives women’s everyday experiences political action. One of the most accessible ways to make this connection is through storytelling, which itself is inherently personal. Our members, Ba Futuru and Bishop Asili Counseling, Rehabilitation, and Community Center use storytelling platforms to raise the voices of those in their communities who are often silenced. 

Ba Futuru, based in East Timor, is an organization that does storytelling through a variety of mediums. Their work to end domestic and gender-based violence (GBV) focuses on theater and the power of storytelling on a large scale. Theater as a mode of storytelling is particularly effective as it engages with audiences in a way that is more intimate and memorable. Theater provides an opportunity for those who have suffered trauma from GBV, to take ownership of those experiences and share their transformations with others. The theater groups and films created by Ba Futuru are featured around the island and work to inform the communities about the harm of GBV, pathways to resources, and strategies to change the norms and behaviors that perpetuate violence in their communities. In their work, they connect with perpetrators of GBV and emphasize behavioral changes that are necessary to ensure gender equality. Through a common language, Ba Futuru is able to challenge the status quo of gender relations and acceptance of domestic and GBV. 

Another platform that is used to promote gender equality is storytelling via radio programs. For many of our members, radio is easier to access and therefore, radio programs have become a great advocacy tool. At Bishop Asili Counseling, Rehabilitation, and Community Center in Uganda, a radio storytelling campaign has also been a successful advocacy tool. During Women Thrive’s online course, Raise Your Voice, held over April 2017, Sister Florence from the Center told facilitators about a successful campaign they did using storytelling. Through this campaign, they created awareness and were able to mobilize their community to instigate change. Because of the success of the storytelling, others who had been afraid to share their stories before were encouraged to come forward as well.

Storytelling is deeply connected to feminism and should be used when doing feminist development. As advocacy organizations, Ba Futuru and Bishop Asili Counseling, Rehabilitation, and Community Center, their use of storytelling to make positive changes for women in their communities are not just rallying cries but formative action. Their work puts “the personal is political” into motion.