The traditional belief in sorcery is used to justify violence against women in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Inhumane treatment of innocent women accused of sorcery is common in rural parts of the island as sorcery is thought to account for unexplained deaths or misfortunes in a family or village. For more than 12 years, Seeds Performing Arts Theatre Group has been using theatre drama to raise awareness on issues affecting the local rural population, including violence against women. The performances constitute an effective way to inspire and implement social change, as the plays’ content is based on the local needs and culture. Opening up to digital media to increase outreach, Seeds teamed up with a group of online volunteers to develop a screenplay for a video about the specific gender-based violence associated with witch hunting.
Collaborating with UN Online Volunteers from France, Ireland, Israel, UK and South Africa, Seeds was able to produce a rich screenplay underlining the link between sorcery-related violence and gender discrimination as part of their 'Women NOT Witches' campaign. Online volunteers provided advice on how to communicate the message in a relevant and entertaining way so as to target both women and men, and reach the community, including village chiefs and religious leaders who play a crucial role in trials on witchcraft as community based justice run through informal village courts.
Other members of the online volunteers’ team carried out research, wrote articles and web content, edited promotional materials for outreach, and drafted reports for donor agencies. For Australian online volunteer Robyn Santa Maria, one of the best results to date is a new partnership between Seeds Theatre Group and Oxfam PNG. The first part of the campaign was funded by the Canadian Embassy in Canberra and, thanks to Robyn’s help in preparing a funding proposal, Seeds gained support from Oxfam PNG to extend the campaign to other areas in the country. In addition, Seeds project director was invited to a panel on gender based violence for the PNG Human Rights Film Festival that toured the country. The volunteering experience made Robyn reassess her work in the private sector: “I am so much more aware that my ability to help is not limited by geography, she states. I can use my skills from anywhere in the world to affect change, even if it’s in only a small way”.