Street Theatre Educates Voters and Creates Awareness

Street Theatre Story
An engaged audience watches Kazbano and her troupe perform in Hyderabad Photo: CHANAN

While voter turnout in the General Elections has increased from its historic low of 35% in 1997 to 44% in 2008, Pakistan still has the lowest voter turnout in South Asia. The lack of voter trust and education has been identified as one of the primary reasons behind this indifference and lack of participation.

“Our rulers and politicians are often unresponsive to our needs and the fault lies with us! To make them more accountable and bring true change, Pakistanis must move away from apathy and start engaging in the democratic process at every level; be it as students, home-makers or professionals turning out to vote, as activists raising people’s awareness on democratic rights and processes or as candidates contesting the elections,” says  Irum Javaid, a social organiser from Vehari who works on raising awareness on pressing issues such as political participation, child rights and reproductive health.

Highlights

  • 361 performances were held across 8 districts (Abbottabad, Mardan, Hyderabad, Khairpur, Attock, Bahawalpur, Quetta and Khuzdar) between 29th April to 10th May, 2013.
  • 47,098 people were reached directly through these performances.

In this context, Goal 13 of the Election Commission of Pakistan’s Five Years Strategic Plan 2010-2014, specifically aims “To create awareness amongst voters of all ages and all sections of society in order to increase their full participation in the electoral process by undertaking civic and voter education”. The UNDP Electoral Cycle Support to the Election Commission of Pakistan 2012-2014 Project has been working with the ECP to increase its capacity to deliver its Strategic Plan and one of the areas of assistance has been Civic and Voter Education (CVE). Together with the ECP, the Project undertook a nationwide voter education campaign, including grassroots level community awareness raising activities, a media campaign and outreach activities through district election commissioners, as well as partners from the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. In addition, the Project engaged an organisation, CHANAN, to conduct street theatre activities in 8 districts across the country.

The performances increased voter awareness of electoral processes and in particular, encouraged them to turn out to vote. Humour and music were used to engage people and deliver the Election Commission’s messages. Traditional, conservative characters in the play were pitched against those with a more modern and inclusive outlook and the ensuing dialogue culminated in interesting debates on voters’ rights, the right of women, minorities and people with disabilities to vote and choosing candidates on the basis of merit. Recounting her experiences, 34 year old Kazbano Asif, a lead artist performing in plays across District Hyderabad said, “We were able to convince people, particularly women, that they could change their destiny through the ballot and if they believe they can, they certainly will!”

Voters were also walked through the polling process and informed of how they could check their voter registration details by sending their computerised national identity card number to 8300 via SMS. Consequently, the performances both motivated people to vote and educated them on basic processes.  The groups also distributed material such as brochures, posters and stickers that the audience could share with their friends and family to spread further voter awareness.

“The play has helped me realise that each of us, including women, has an important role to play in building our society and should not let their vote go to waste. I will be sharing the information I learned here, particularly about the 8300 SMS service, with other women I know as well,” said Nasim Malah, a member of the audience at a performance in Union Council Tando Ki, District Hyderabad.

The Project’s other areas of support to the ECP include the development of a results management system and polling staff trainings for over 300,000 people. In the post-elections period the Project will continue to collaborate with the ECP, focusing on strengthening the long-term capacity of the ECP, electoral reforms and improvements to electoral processes, civic education and local government elections.