As usual, we have to take in the entire sentence to understand these two parts in context.
This privileging of the protagonist seems appropriate, particularly given that women in Africa have often used literary productions, which feature protagonists and other "actors" undergoing ordeals and otherwise taking active part in real life, to comment on marriage, family and gender relations.
I find "used" to be an interesting choice of term here, because it's vague. When the author says "used" in this context, they can mean one of two things.
Either "women in Africa" have written their own literary productions (that means literary work or piece; an essay, story, poem etc.) that contain themes commenting on marriage, family and gender relations, and they have done so in order to influence their local communities, OR they are utilizing already-written works to influence their local communities in a particular way about marriage, family and gender relations. The one thing in common is that they are trying to influence their communities with the aid of these literary productions, but it is not clear how those productions came to exist.
As an example of the second interpretation, a woman might get a copy of The Poisonwood Bible or another piece well-known for featuring a strong female protagonist and recommend it to their friends, to start changing the image of women in the minds of those around her.
It is difficult to say which of these the author means from this excerpt alone.
As for "undergoing ordeals," "undergoing" simply means "experiencing" or "regularly encountering." An "ordeal" is a difficult or trying task or situation. So, it means simply what it says, protagonists and other "actors" (not sure what the significance of the scare quotes are there) who regularly must deal with trying or difficult things.