The play takes place in a small mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the early years of this century. During this period, a brutal civil war raged in the country, which caused widespread death and devastation. It also led to sexual violence against women and children on a catastrophic scale. Even today, the Democratic Republic of Congo has epidemic levels of sexual violence.
The characters in Ruined are all victims, to some extent, of the horrific civil war in the DRC. In writing the play, Lynn Nottage was specifically attempting to highlight the plight of women in the civil war, the victims of the endemic sexual violence used as a deliberate weapon in the conflict. The bar-and-brothel at the center of the play is staffed by women who themselves have fallen victim to the civil war. They are all emotionally damaged by the abuse they've suffered, and which carries on, albeit in a different form, in their current lives as prostitutes.
The morally ambiguous character of the brothel madame Mama Nadi is also a victim in a way. On the one hand, she makes money from exploiting women who've already been horrifically exploited. But at the same time she's forced by the civil war to do whatever she can to survive.