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Theatre

Sadie Frost: Why I’m part of the UN’s campaign to end violence against women

Sadie Frost, Lorien Haynes and Priyanga Burford on their production Punched: An Evening of Survivors’ Stories.

Sadie Frost is part of a group of actors and writers who have come together for a UN initiative to tackle the rise in violence against women and girls.

It could hardly be more timely. Recent figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that domestic abuse-related crimes in England and Wales went up by six per cent in the year to March (and have doubled in the last six years), while prosecutions are down.

Their performance is called Punched, and it is part of the UN’s Global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. It comprises a series of powerful monologues created to raise awareness of gender-based violence against women and girls, to encourage discussion and understanding around the issue, and to promote solidarity between women, between generations, between survivors.

After being personally affected by domestic abuse and being so very lost and frightened, I am finding much relief and confidence that finally this subject is a topic on people’s agenda

Sadie Frost

It is also raising vital funds for three organisations – The Circle, Refuge and Southall Black Sisters, each of them supporting women in vital ways.

We asked three contributors – producer/writer/actor Lorien Haynes, producer/writer/actor Sadie Frost and actor Priyanga Burford – to write for The Big Issue about why this event and this global campaign is so important.

Lorien Haynes: “Each true story shines a light on a different form of sexual violence”

“November 25 marks the first day of the UN’s 16 Days of Global Activism to end gender based violence against women and girls. The initiative, instigated in 1991, by activists at the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute, is now an annual call to action running until December 10, Human Rights Day. It’s a framework embraced by women’s organisations and artists to draw attention to sexual violence and to call for its elimination. 

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“It seemed the right time in which to produce our fundraiser, Punched – an evening of survivor’s stories supporting the 16 Days of Activism. Punched is a theatre piece. A homage to Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, exploring all areas of sexual violence from the survivors point of view; The Afghan Woman, The Migrant Woman, The Disabled Woman, The Homeless Woman.

“Each true story is dramatised, each true story shines a light on a different form of sexual violence; from domestic abuse, to rape.

“From sexual harassment, to child abuse. We chose drama because we feel it makes the material both powerful and digestible in a world where we’ve all become accustomed to endless news feeds and doom-scrolling.

“This year is different from other years for the 16 Days campaign. We were further galvanised by the consequences of the pandemic. Figures estimate that for every three months of lockdown a further 15 million women suffered sexual violence globally. A staggering figure; which alongside the prediction that women’s rights have been reversed an entire generation, gave us every reason to feel we cannot remain silent.

“From Sally Greene and Fiona Callaghan at The Criterion Theatre, to Clair Dobbs and her team at CLD Communications, from every writer and survivor, to every actress on stage, every woman involved in this project has donated their time in order to help raise awareness.

“Knowing we are in a time of crisis. Knowing that coming together and creating a safe space for survivors and their voices, is an act of faith – and proof that we can stand up and make a difference. That we can encourage each other to stand up and make a difference. That standing together we do make a difference. You just have to get on out of your chair.”

Sadie Frost: “I hope people acknowledge the severity of abuse and gender-based violence”

“After being personally affected by domestic abuse and being so very lost and frightened – and knowing that feeling of nowhere to go to and never being heard – I am finding much relief and confidence that finally this subject is a topic on people’s agenda. There’s so much more to be done – but events like this and issues being raised by the press is a real start!

“I have written a piece – adapted from a film I’ve been writing called Blackout. It’s short and punchy and is focused around a mother and daughter speaking about the mother’s experience around abuse and what it triggers, the traumas it has caused for her. It’s a tense piece that demonstrates a tender yet generational moment. 

“I hope people acknowledge the severity of abuse and gender-based violence. I want the evening to be a liberating experience for women who can also connect, get information and support. For the audience to become part of the survivors’ stories on many levels. 

“Everyone coming together should have a real impact. I hope it will give women strength and confidence. And that the evening will highlight many issues – giving a voice to women, plus creating momentum in an area that needs much more debate and action.”

Priyanga Burford: “A lot of women are keeping an enormous amount of pain in silence”

“One third of the world’s women and girls will experience gender-based violence. And it’s thought that less than 40 per cent of them seek any kind of help. That’s a lot of women keeping an enormous amount of pain in silence.

“When I read these statistics I thought about the silence – how, just when what is needed is to cry out for help and to tell what has happened, these women are made quiet.

“I wanted to get involved with Punched to help give voice to those who have been forced to keep quiet and to try and give humanity to the statistics. As a performer, it’s the skill I can offer towards the cause.

“Punched is in support of the work of Refuge, Southall Black Sisters and The Circle NGO. These groups cover a huge range of methods to help women and girls who are living through or have experienced abuses in the past.

“From online, text and phone helplines that operate 24/7, 365 days a year in many different languages including BSL; specialist advice in UK Family, Immigration and Housing Law; and internationally, addressing gender inequality through campaigning for pay parity and pushing for legislation that gives women the same protections under law as men.

“I feel so lucky to be asked to support initiatives like this, who are using their understanding, knowledge and expertise to make proper long-lasting change happen in the world.”

Punched: An Evening of Survivors’ Stories – in support of The UN’s Global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence – takes place on December 6 at The Criterion Theatre in London and will raise funds for The Circle, Refuge, and Southall Black Sisters.

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