Vagina Monologues encouraging uncomfortable but necessary dialogue on women's reproductive health

By Thandeka Matebesi

In many African societies sex and sexuality are taboo topics that cannot be explicitly and freely talked about especially with parents or relatives. Any attempt at openly discussing sex and sexuality is castigated as a sing of immorality. Most young people have turned to alternative forms of knowledge such as friends, internet and television where they risk getting wrong information which puts them in harms’ way.

Motivated by the silence, ignorance and misconceptions on sex and female sexuality arising from being part of a highly “religious” society where one cannot freely say words describing one’s genitalia, a Bulawayo-based producer with Intwasa, Ms Chipo Mawarire has come up with Vagina Monologues Africa a play inspired by Eve Ensler who first wrote and performed a similar play back in 1996.

Judging by the title there has been mixed reactions to the play from the public.

Mawarire said reactions to the play have been varied, with some welcoming the play as educational while some think the producer and her team are very vulgar.

“Public reactions are always unpredictable; you just have to be ready for anything. You have people expecting to see naked women on stage, I remember some guys asking “will you really be showing ‘it’, like ‘it’?” They couldn’t say the word ‘vagina’, which is normal given that it is against our culture.” Marire said

Some people were excited as they were expecting to see pornography and she had to remind them that they were not a strip club, but a theatre performing arts group.

Vagina monologues also met negative comments as some people felt the title was too ‘raw’ and misleading. 

“Some people have commented on our social media posts and some through  direct messages on   my account questioning if it was really necessary to use such a term which seemed uncomfortable to many ” said Mawarire.

She added that most people were still not comfortable with openly discussing the issues of sex and sexuality.

“People are not comfortable with the word “vagina”, and the subject thereof, but reactions from the premier night has been really amazing. One person from Gwanda actually came up to me and said that when he heard the play title he thought it was a naughty play but after watching the play he has respect for the vagina.” she said

However she noticed that there were many women who were still not comfortable with the mentioning of the word,

“ In  Masvingo, I was saddened to see that women were shy to be in the audience and they were even more shy when the word Vagina was mentioned, you can only imagine how uncomfortable they were as the word was mentioned many  times in the play”, she said.

According to Mawarire women have been sexually objectified and vilified such that they are even more afraid to embrace any part of their femininity.

“You then realise that there is so much mystery around the Vagina, which shouldn’t exist as it is a natural biological sex organ women should embrace and freely talk about without fear of being chastised. This is beyond being comfortable with yourself and your sexuality because as it is there are still women who are shy to buy pads, condoms, lubrication even to some extremes underwear in the presence of men. Women have to be secretive about everything which becomes a burden when it comes to enjoyment of their sexual and reproductive health rights”, added Mawarire.

Mawarire said it will take a long time before people opened up to the subject in both towns and rural areas.

“I would really like the play to reach even rural areas where culture and tradition continue to be a hindrance for women to express themselves sexually however costs are restrictive.  We are currently working on a plan to be able to reach those areas where the mind set and cultural barriers continue to hinder women from enjoying their sexual and reproductive rights,” she concluded.