When women in Congo asked playwright Lynn Nottage to share their stories of surviving violent rape, Nottage said she worried that she was “just” a storyteller and hoped she’d be able to find an audience with the ability to affect change in Congo.
But these powerful stories found an impressive audience recently when the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay were in the audience at the Manhattan Theater Club to see Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama ‘RUINED.’ Secretary-General Moon reacted to the play, saying:
This drama will give a very powerful message. This is a very compelling story which everybody should know (…) There are so many people who need our hands, our helping hands.
The play tells the fictional story of a Mama Nadi, who operates a brothel in war-ravaged eastern Congo. At once, she provides for and exploits the three young women in her charge – both shielding them from the daily hardships playing out in the surrounding jungle, and forcing them to use their bodies as commodities in the mounting chaos. As the war heats up, Mama Nadi’s attempts to keep the brothel neutral and safe become increasingly futile.
The play also focuses on the dramatic and corruptive struggle over natural resources in Congo and highlights the link between the minerals trade and rampant sexual violence in the region, which the growing activist and consumer movement to halt the trade in conflict minerals seeks to address. In an interview at the theater the night of Secretary-General Moon’s attendance, Nottage indicated that she hopes audience members will look for ways to be involved in ending the violence after connecting with the characters on stage.
I hope people, when they read the newspaper, actually engage with [stories from Congo] in a more profound and complicated way, and that when they’re reading about women in Congo they think of them in three dimensions and not just merely as statistics, and I ultimately hope that they will be compelled to act…
Nottage made impressive inroads toward that goal with the visit by Secretary-General Moon and High Commissioner Pillay. Watch how they reacted in this video by Broadway Magazine.
One doesn’t have to be a high-ranking advocate to make a positive impact on the grave situation in Congo. Join the movement that is doing just what Nottage suggested: Empowering individuals to translate their alarm about rape in Congo into meaningful action.
Photo: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and playwright Lynn Nottage at a performance of RUINED. Credit: Joseph Marzullo/MTC