Puppetry may seem an unlikely campaigning tool against gender-based violence, particularly since popular puppet act Punch and Judy has been slammed for promoting domestic violence.
But A Team Arts group’s innovative puppet show “Her Link”, which communicates with young people about “healthy relationships”, was met with a very positive response at a youth conference last week.
Youth Voices, run by Tower Hamlets Council’s Domestic Violence team, held a one-day conference aimed at “empowering” young people to put an end to this kind of violence.
More than 150 academics, practitioners and young people came together at the Omani Centre in Whitechapel on Wednesday to tackle the issue.
Geraldine Bone of the Sexual Exploitation team said the use of puppets allowed people to have “frank conversations” about gender-based violence.
Two puppeteers acted out a scene involving a young girl with an older partner who encourages her to ignore her friends, drink and smoke, with the intention of having a sexual relationship with her.
The show was repeated and the second performance allowed the audience to interject, ask questions about the situation and offer their advice to the puppet girl.
Alexandra Ellish, a Shadwell resident who attended the event, said: “The puppets were definitely one of the highlights: a really brilliant, arts-based way to explore tricky issues!”
“[The conference] was excellent with a great combination of speakers, practitioners & academics and useful links shared.”
A video about female genital mutilation, shown by Ayan Mahamoud from Somalian welfare charity Ocean Somali, was described as “powerful” by participants.
On top of this creative approach, a number of speakers shared their research and experience in relation to the issue.
Nicola Sharp, a research fellow at the Child and Women’s Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University, revealed the emerging findings from her doctorate research focusing on the links between forced marriage, disappearances and sexual exploitation.
Other speakers in attendance were Tower Hamlets headteachers Esther Holland of Central Foundation Girls School and Cath Smith of Bow School. Joanna Sharpen represented Against Violence & Abuse and Dr Ester McGeeney was in attendance for the University of Sussex.
Jake Tily, Education Manager at Tender UK, tweeted: “Great to hear about so many different VAWG projects at the Tower Hamlets Youth Voices event today.”
Gender-based violence is described by the council as a “significant problem in Tower Hamlets” with Metropolitan police in the borough dealing with an average of 11 incidents everyday.
Councillors have agreed that Youth Voices was a success and highlighted the importance of including young people in action against gender-based violence.
Councillor Ohid Ahmed, cabinet member for community safety, said: “It is not right that gender-based violence can be allowed to perpetuate into future generations. The council is working hard to highlight the importance of this message by hosting events like this one.”
Mayor Lutfur Rahman added: “This conference has brought together professionals from across the voluntary and statutory sectors and young people in Tower Hamlets. Our multi-agency approach is helping to address gender-based violence in the borough. We are proud to see our young people speaking out about these issue”.