There’s a reason Mumbi Kaigwa has produced The Vagina Monologues several times since she first took the revolutionary step and staged the show with its controversial (even unmentionable to some) title back in 2003.
“Violence against women is still there,” says the actor who has been in the theatre since age ten, first dramatising Wole Soyinka’s Strong Breed for local TV, then doing everything from live theatre to Australian sitcoms to Hollywood films like The Constant Gardener and others. The Monologues have a message that sadly hasn’t lost its relevance in the 21 years since it premiered in New York City, produced and directed by its playwright Eve Ensler. It’s still the case that in Kenya, the title distracts some people from appreciating the depth of women’s feelings and experience that is revealed in the play. Yet the show has had phenomenal success worldwide where it’s spearheaded a social movement of women for their empowerment and against the type of violence that we tragically see every day in the media as we hear about women being murdered, raped, mutilated and even burnt intentionally.
Last Thursday’s performance of the Monologues at Kenya National Theatre featured phenomenal actors relating true stories of women and girls from all walks of life who had been interviewed by Ensler about intimate aspects of their lives.
Some of those stories could easily scandalise those who still feel sex should not be discussed publicly. But frankly speaking, the Monologues have had a liberating effect on most women who have either been in the production or listening to it.
It might be surprising to know that actors like Nini Wacera, Shiviske Shikivi, Aleya Kassam, Pauline Kyalo and Mumbi herself all performed in the Monologue as volunteers. But once we heard from two widows who have been assisted by the NGO, Come Together Widows and Orphans Organisation, for which the Monologues raise funds, it was clear that this exceedingly vulnerable sector of society deserved help.
Speaking after the show, Rachel and Janet gave heart-wrenching testimonials about their trials and the support they’d received from Diana Kamande, founder of the NGO. Rachel had been abused by in-laws who threw her out of her home once her husband died, and Janet had been beaten, stabbed and ultimately set on fire by her spouse who left her for dead. Funds from The Monologues have contributed to their rehabilitation and school fees for Janet’s three boys.