The songs of Bob Dylan, and Woody Guthrie before him, help ignite the revolution for social justice in 1960 America.

In 2009  Sheema Kermani is using a theater group, to advance the cause of women’s rights in her country, Pakistan.

What artiest, in any field, songs, plays, movies, tv, etc, do you think advanced the cause of social justice in your country, in your lifetime?

From a Christian Science article, by Huma Yusuf, about Sheema Kermani and her Tehrik-e-Niswan (Women’s Movement) troupe.

“KARACHI, Pakistan – Last December, when the theater troupe Tehrik-e-Niswan (Women’s Movement) performed in Orangi Town – the largest slum in the Pakistani port city of Karachi – it did not expect Muslim clerics to make up the bulk of the audience.

At the invitation of a nonprofit organization, the activist troupe was staging a play about child abuse, which features a cleric as a molester. “We were too scared to perform,” says Asma Mundrawala, one of the actors.

“But Sheema encouraged us to go on, reminding us that this was the exact audience we were trying to reach.”

Sheema Kermani is the founder of Tehrik-e-Niswan, considered the cultural wing of the women’s rights movement in Pakistan. For 30 years, Ms. Kermani has staged plays in low-income urban and rural communities that touch on taboo topics, including domestic violence, rape, child molestation, the claustrophobic fate of unmarried women, and the importance of education for girls.

The troupe flourished in the 1980s, when then-military dictator Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq imposed draconian Islamic laws that curtailed women’s rights. One piece of legislature, for example, required the government to prosecute rape victims for pre- or extramarital sex. During that time, Kermani directed and acted in plays such as “Anji,” in which her character is raped on stage, and “Chadar Aur Chaardiwari,” in which a young girl commits suicide, which is illegal in Pakistan.”     

“Two years ago, Kermani’s troupe performed a play about girls’ education in Lyari, a large slum in Karachi. The men of the community insisted on watching the play first, before their female family members, and eventually decided that the women could not see the performance.

“The decision should have made me sad,” Kermani says. “But it only reinforced that this medium is so powerful that people are scared of it. Those men thought the play would inspire or incite women to think for themselves – and that’s what we want.”

“For all her resilience, Kermani concedes that sharing ideas through theater is increasingly difficult. “When I was growing up, there was no stigma against dancing or acting. But that’s no longer the case,” she says.

“For years, I’ve been performing in all corners of Pakistan, and no one has shut us down. But the mullahs [clerics] in the crowd are growing in number. I don’t know if theater can defeat the fashion of fundamentalism.”