On Monday I went to see “Ruined” at the Almeida theatre in London. It is a powerful play by Lynn Nottage that brings to life the characters of women and men affected by sexual violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. I was stuck by the appalling way in which mineral resources fuel conflict and suffering. The breakdown of law and order, and the arming of so many men in the war zone, create a dangerous environment for women. The play shows how normal moral and cultural boundaries cease to apply and soldiers from all sides are able to commit atrocious violence with impunity.
Sexual violence can destroy a women’s life in a matter of moments. But the play illustrates that the physical sufferings are only the beginning. The central characters are women who have been raped and then disowned in various ways by their husbands and wider family.
The most tragic character, Salima, has been kidnapped by a militia and held in the bush for five months as a sexual slave. “How can men be this way?” she asks at one point in the play. Her baby was killed by the militia, her husband threw her out and she was forced into a life of prostitution to survive. By the time her husband, a government soldier, decides that he wants her back, she is pregnant and unwilling to see him again.
But the play is also about strength - the strength of characters who survive against appalling odds. It includes moments that are full of generosity, compassion and love in the most unlikely places. It is not an easy evening’s viewing, but it is a wonderful play and certainly one designed to reaffirm your commitment to working to end violence against women.