Performing Empowerment: Disability, Dance, and Inclusive Development in Post-Conflict Sri Lanka

Lead Research Organisation: University of Dundee
Department Name: Law

Abstract

War inflicts lasting physical and psychological damage on many people and subsequent post-conflict development often leaves them behind. Long after the war is over, ex-combatants and civilians with conflict-related disabilities remain trapped in extreme poverty and social exclusion. One way to change this is to empower them with the confidence, knowledge, and skills to assert their socio-economic rights and to demand government services. Such "legal empowerment" is a form of rights-based development that accords with the emphasis on access to justice and inclusion in the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

This research project examines an innovative way of empowering persons with conflict-related disabilities in Sri Lanka through an unusual combination of dance and law. Although Sri Lanka's brutal, 26-year civil war ended in 2009, the country only began seriously addressing the legacies of the conflict with the election of a new president in 2015. The project is also timely given that Sri Lanka ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this year and the country is currently debating reparations for those affected by the war.

The project consists of four main activities: (1) workshops that combine integrated dance (where disabled and able-bodied dancers perform together) and legal empowerment; (2) flash mobs and dance performances in busy, public spaces by workshop participants; (3) research on how the workshops and performances affect the agency, dignity, welfare, and inclusion of persons with conflict-related disabilities; and (4) sharing the research findings with a wide range of beneficiaries to maximize impact. The workshops and performances will take place in Batticaloa and Jaffna, two of the most conflict-affected districts in Sri Lanka.

The research component asks how combining legal empowerment with integrated dance can contribute to inclusive development for persons with disabilities in post-conflict settings. In answering that, the project addresses three gaps in current knowledge. First, there has been very little research done on legal empowerment for persons with conflict-related disabilities. Second, there is evidence that integrated dance can promote self-esteem and inclusion for persons with disabilities, but more research is needed to see whether this also applies to conflict-related disabilities and post-conflict environments. Finally, the use of participatory performing arts to achieve development goals is under-studied.

The research team consists of a new, interdisciplinary collaboration among scholar-practitioners in dance and human rights. The team will work closely with two project partners: a German non-profit association that has already piloted workshops and performances in Sri Lanka; and a Sri Lankan church that provides services to persons with disabilities and other marginalized persons in those two districts. The research will be conducted and disseminated with the help of two Sri Lankan collaborators: the Fine Arts Department at Eastern University of Sri Lanka and the Law Department at the University of Peradeniya. The project will also build capacity in these departments so they can continue the workshops and research after this specific project ends.

The research will produce an evidence-base on linking legal empowerment with participatory performance to reduce extreme poverty and social exclusion for persons with conflict-related disabilities after conflict. The impact is to inform policymakers, practitioners, and donors on how to scale up such development interventions in Sri Lanka and similar post-conflict states like Myanmar and Nepal.

Planned Impact

Persons with conflict-related disabilities will benefit from this research in several ways. First, their participation in the workshops and co-production of the research will ensure that the project meets their needs for empowerment. This is particularly the case with the follow-up workshops where they will be given a large role to determine structure and content. Second, the dance performances (which are both research outputs and objects of research) play an integral role in impact. For disabled participants, performing and 'making abilities visible' helps them to develop confidence, autonomy, and self-esteem, and to overcome potential insecurities about being seen/looked at. Third, the preliminary research findings will inform the follow-up workshops and performances, thereby ensuring those have more impact for participants. Fourth, the final research findings will be incorporated into a practitioners toolkit that will help the local partners and other civil society organizations combine integrated dance and legal empowerment more effectively. Fifth, the research aims to drive the empowerment of persons with conflict-related disabilities higher up the policy agenda.

The families and communities of persons with conflict-related disabilities will also benefit from this research. The public dance performances will directly impact on family and community perceptions of disability, disrupting assumptions about what disabled people are capable of. In addition, media coverage and documentary videos of these performances will reach a wider audience in Sri Lanka. Targeted emails will be sent to disability advocates, service providers, and media outlets in Sri Lanka to make them aware that these videos are freely downloadable on the project website. To reach those without internet access, the project will find funding for dance students from Eastern University to do mobile screenings of the videos in poor, rural communities in the north and east of the country.

Government officials and civil society organizations will benefit from the research by gaining greater awareness of the capabilities and rights of persons with conflict-related disabilities. Some local officials and local staff will directly benefit by being invited to participate in the legal empowerment sessions of the workshops and to attend the public dance performances. Others will benefit from attending the one-day conference in Colombo in January 2018 to discuss the preliminary research findings, the draft policy paper, and the draft practitioner guide. More will benefit from the resources on the project website (the policy briefing, practitioner toolkit, blogs, and videos).

Development actors may be persuaded to do more legal empowerment for persons with conflict-related disabilities if presented with a stronger evidence base from this research project. They will be made aware of the research findings through: project conferences in Colombo (January 2018) and York (April 2018); networking with development actors (ActionAid, International Service, Namati) that have close links with the Centre for Applied Human Rights; presentations at development studies conferences in Sri Lanka and the UK; and the resources on the project website (particularly the practitioner toolkit and policy briefing).

Finally, the research outputs may encourage more integrated dance practice in Sri Lanka, where dance plays an important cultural role. The performances will also have an impact within the dance communities in Sri Lanka, the UK, and Germany both through the work of the dancers and choreographers involved in this project but also through the videos of dance performances on the project website.

Publications

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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/P008178/1 01/11/2016 31/08/2017 £80,153
AH/P008178/2 Transfer AH/P008178/1 01/09/2017 15/09/2018 £38,946
 
Description Please see response to AH/P008178/1
Exploitation Route Please see response to AH/P008178/1
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description Please see response to AH/P008178/1
 
Description British Council of Sri Lanka
Amount £14,000 (GBP)
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 09/2020
 
Description Coventry University Impact Acceleration Fund
Amount £250 (GBP)
Organisation Coventry University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2019 
End 07/2019
 
Description University of Dundee School of Social Sciences, REF Impact Case Development
Amount £1,543 (GBP)
Organisation University of Dundee 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2018 
End 07/2019
 
Description Conference (Durham) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Gave presentation on Performing Empowerment project at British Association for South Asian Studies, Durham University, 5 April 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.basas.org.uk/
 
Description Final project workshop (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Final workshop for "Performing Empowerment" project, London, 3 September 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description PACCS Policy Late Event (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact GCRF/PaCCS Policy Late Event in London on "Increasing Impact through Creative Arts Collaborations" in London, 9 February 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.paccsresearch.org.uk/event/paccs-policy-late-increasing-impact-through-creative-arts-coll...
 
Description Peacebuilding conference (Jakarta) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Gave a presentation on Performing Empowerment project at Varieties of Peace conference, Jakarta, 22-24 October 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.varietiesofpeace.net/2019-asia-conference
 
Description Research symposium (Royal Holloway) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation of Performing Empowerment methodology and findings to arts practitioners and researchers working in/on Colombia, 22 November 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.eventbrite.com/e/embodied-performance-practices-memory-conflict-and-reconciliation-ticke...
 
Description Workshop (Kings College London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Gave a presentation at a 2-day workshop on Visual and Embodied Methodologies in the Study of Conflict, Violence & Marginalisation in the Global South, King's College London, 3-4 June, 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.kcl.ac.uk/events/kings-vem-workshop-exploring-visual-embodied-art-based-methodologies