Taking Health Education from the Theater to the Community

“If traditional gender roles were changed, would that change people’s attitudes towards sexual and reproductive health?

A while back, a team of young men and women staged a reproductive health play dubbed “The Twist” that brought health information and entertainment to the cinema hall in Kampala. During my undergraduate program right before our graduation, my classmates and I produced this play. We then decided to have the play performed last year as a project by Public Health Ambassadors Uganda (PHAU), a youth-led organisation I co-founded.

Understanding “The Twist”

The play is staged in rural-urban Uganda and revolves around one man, his immediate family, and close friends. Written by Nargis Shiraz (a Global Health Corps alumna) and produced by PHAU, “The Twist” brings a comedic lens to topics including cultural norms, gender roles, poverty, and the burden of planning for children. The play aims to increase the adoption of safer sexual behavioral practices among young people and to foster awareness around the underlying social, cultural, gender-based, and other structural barriers that prevent young Ugandans from accessing sexual and reproductive health (SRHR) services. It has a strong advocacy message around engaging males in increasing the uptake of family planning methods in Uganda. To many, this type of approach is considered radical because theatre is generally reserved for leisurely entertainment.

On set: Maama Bena is seen fleeing the wrath of Deo, her husband. Source: Public Health Ambassadors Uganda

In the play, we meet Deo, the man who wants a son, and Bond, the suave “ladies’ man.” We also meet Tembo, the best mechanic at the village town garage, who believes his Ugandan parents were meant to be Jamaican. “The Twist” inspires the audience to consider a question: What would happen if the tables were turned in a typical African home and norms generally applied to females are applied to males, and vice versa? Would this twist change our health outcomes on a population level? The play gets to showcase a cocktail of feelings and mixed reactions when the man who was once a celebrated mechanic in the garage due to force majeure becomes pregnant after fielding a series of demands for a boy from his wife with whom they already have three daughters. He becomes the laughing stock of the village, staying at home taking care of domestic responsibilities as the wife becomes the sole bread winner of the family.

Male involvement in family planning is a key pillar in the promotion of reproductive health. Source: Public Health Ambassadors Uganda

Reach and Impact of the Production

To date, a total of five productions of “The Twist” have been staged at the National Theatre, with a total of 361 people in the audience. Online promotion was complimented with one live TV talk show appearance on NBS TV, as well as three radio talk shows on Galaxy FM, Simba FM, and CBS FM.

Participants sharing their ideas during the dialogue session after the play. Source: Public Health Ambassadors Uganda

The audience enjoyed all the shows and were heard reacting loudly to various scenes during the production. The play was performed in English except for very few lines by some actors who read in Luganda. The PHAU team hosted two intergenerational dialogues following the production that engaged various stakeholders and partners including young people in secondary schools, youth-led organizations, universities, NGOs, CSOs, and the Ministry of Health. The production was also supported by other partners: Uganda Health Marketing Group, Marie Stopes Uganda, AIDS Health Care Foundation — Uganda Cares, Quicket, PSI Uganda, Bridge Films, and Uganda National Cultural Center.

As a next step, the PHAU team plans to make a TV production that will be used as an edutainment tool to engage communities with low male involvement in family planning. With support from partners, the recorded production will later be produced on DVDs and translated into local languages. These DVDs will be taken to schools and communities as a tool for awareness creation and advocacy on issues of gender roles and SRHR in Uganda.

Ssesanga Dennis Ernest is a 2018–2019 Global Health Corps fellow at IntraHealth International in Uganda.

Global Health Corps (GHC) is a leadership development organization building the next generation of health equity leaders around the world. All GHC fellows, partners, and supporters are united in a common belief: health is a human right. There is a role for everyone in the movement for health equity. To learn more, visit our website and connect with us on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook.