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Global Grace Project

Participatory theatre and the production of cultures of equality amongst Sex Workers in South Africa

This is a collaborative research project between the Centre for Theatre Dance & Performance Studies (CTDPS), the African Gender Institute (AGI), the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force (SWEAT). It is part of Global GRACE (Global Gender and Cultures of Equality), a transcontinental initiative. Participatory theatre and the production of cultures of equality amongst sex workers in South Africa investigates gender positive approaches to wellbeing through the use of participatory theatre and performance. Using these interventions, we hope to learn existing initiatives sex workers have used to challenge structural systems of inequality and sexual violence and to raise their aspirations and self-confidence. This involves learning about how sex workers produce equality (and challenge inequality and injustice) and enhance empowering decision-making in their daily lives.  Whereas Government policies tend to focus on the law, the criminal justice system and punitive measures our project will be investigating and participating in gender positive approaches to wellbeing in order to promote positive physical and mental health.

 The research project is centred on the following questions:

  1. What does/might equality and well-being look and feel like to sex workers in South Africa?
  2. When and where do sex workers feel dis/empowered? How does gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability/illness, age affect these feelings?
  3. How does money come into and leave the lives of sex workers? What control do they have over this? How do sex workers understand the selling of sex as work and part of a monetary economy, with/without associated rights?
  4. What is violence in sex workers lives and how do they lessen their vulnerability to violence?
  5. 'How can theatre performance create an enabling and empowering environment for sex workers?

Participatory theatre and the production of cultures of equality amongst sex workers in South Africa is housed within the GlobalGrace project, which is a 51-month programme of research and capacity strengthening funded by the UKRI’s Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) delivered through the Arts and Humanities Research Council. GlobalGRACE employs arts based practices and multi-sensory research to investigate the production of cultures of equality and enable gender positive approaches to wellbeing internationally.

GlobalGRACE is a conglomerate of 6 projects based in six countries, namely: South Africa – ‘Participatory Theatre and the production of cultures of equality amongst sex workers in South Africa’; Bangladesh – ‘Working women in men’s world: Visualising female construction workers and the quest for more equitable futures in Syllet, Bangladesh’; Brazil – ‘Decolonising knowledge and masculinities ‘Otherwise’: Street art, dance and the production of cultures of equality in a Brazilian favela’; The Philippines – ‘Making Life Lovable: Digital and literally productions of equality among LGBTQ young people in the Philippines’; Mexico – ‘Por el buen vivir y el buen migrar: creating cultures of equality through the Migrant Museum (MuMi) in indigenous communities of Chiapas, Mexico and the United Kingdom – Space Invading: Curatorial practice and the making of the Global Museum of Equality. Through Partnerships and Capabilities Events (PCE), all project team members meet up once a year to take stock and re-group. At the inception of the project in 2018, the PCE was hosted by the UK team in London, while in 2019, the Mexico and Brazil team hosted the PCE in Rio. In 2021, the Bangladesh and Philippines team will host the PCE in Manila while in 2021, it will be hosted by the South African team – this PCE will conclude the project and also see the launch of the Global Museum of Equality.

‚ÄčUnderpinning our projects are three basic organising ideas. The first is that equality is a cultural artefact: we investigate the variety of ways that equalities are made and  contested in different parts of the world. The second is that cultures might best be understood as the practices through which people create the worlds they inhabit: we investigate how people’s creative practices challenge inequality and engender new possibilities for more equitable ways of living together. The third is the commitment to recognise people’s hard-won achievements and their ongoing struggles: GlobalGRACE is working with partners to highlight just a few examples of this equality work worldwide. Attending to, learning from and sharing about the productions of cultures of equality globally is central to creating sustainable futures for us all. More information on this project can be found here: https://www.globalgrace.net

Members of the Global Grace team during their last PCE in Rio de Janeiro