Empowering women and ending violence!

Date: November 30, 2016
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By Anne Hilton

Gender Links  was last week on Friday at the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism announced as the winner of the Mail and Guardian 2016 Investing in the Future Awards for Job Creation and Enterprise Development. The awards which seeks to shine the spotlight on the often unsung contributions made by business, civil society organisations and individuals to the future of South Africa and its citizens. The awards are designed to heighten public, government and business awareness about meaningful social investment.

Genders Link’s entry, #Sunrise Campaign is based on a 2013 pilot project to address the social constructs of gender based violence (GBV) whilst at the same time introducing survivors to enterpreneruship development training and follow up. For many years Gender Links had worked with survivors of GBV and it kept coming up that economic dependence was a major reason why most women stayed in abusive relationships. Economic abuse and control have been identified a forms of GBV along with emotional, physical and sexual abuse. The aim  was to empower women in their personal and economic capacity to address abuse in their relationships. The project taught both life skills and business management training, the former to build personal confidence and reestablish self-esteem for women that had been undermined by GBV.

As the Manager in charge of this project getting this award is an affirming recognition of the ability for economic empowerment to change the lives of women as demonstrated by the results of the pilot programme. Each woman shared their personal accounts of GBV called I stories before and after the programme; along with a Gender Empowerment survey. This provided a framework for assessing the impact of the programme on the lives of the women.

The research results have shown a positive trend in increases in entrepreneurship activity and overall reduction of GBV at 81% in the 10 countries in which the pilot was run. These countries included Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, where the programme was run with 100 local councils.

In South Africa 72% grew businesses and added new products; 79% completed business plans; 54% followed through on the plan. 69% found new markets and 65% opened a bank account. The average monthly income rose to R532. 74% indicated less or much less violence.  These meaningful results shows the potential for such a model to address GBV for the most vulnerable women.

However to empower women that have survived GBV it is essential that the impact extends beyond the home and family.  Women are often shunned or embarrassed to meet with people but by building their confidence and understanding of gender and GBV, women are better able to reconnect with their communities, seek support and also provide support to other women. The beneficiaries spoke of feeling proud again and being respected by their communities for the skills they had learnt, their confidence to address GBV and their ability to better understand business.

It is heart-warming when people visit me, telling me they admire me. I have the respect of my community and I remember last year in December when he made an attempt to hurt me, all the people in my street stood together throughout the night and it was obvious that if they got their hands on him he would have been badly injured. People’s perceptions about me have changed and they were surprised when I decided to divorce because the norm is usually to stay for better or worse but I decided that I do not have to stand for the abuse anymore. *Schumi from George[1]; reflects one of the women.

The award came just a week after the world observed Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED), held on the nineteenth of November of each year. The inaugural event was held in 2014 in New York City at the United Nations, with additional events being held simultaneously in 144 countries. The day is set aside to recognise, discuss and highlight the successes of women in business around the world. It is also a day to reflect on the barriers that women still face in pursuit of their entrepreneurship dreams and ambitions. Whilst considerable efforts have gone into business development projects aimed at women, the overall impact has not substantially changed the status quo. This is primarily due to most programmes not addressing the social constructs of gender and the underlying impact that this has on women’s ability to participate equally.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), “Women entrepreneurs face gender-based barriers to starting and growing their businesses including discriminatory property, matrimonial and inheritance laws and/or cultural practices, limited mobility, voice and representation, and an unequal share of family and household responsibilities. These factors, combined with social exclusion based on sex mean that women entrepreneurs are in a less favourable position compared to men when it comes to accessing for example commercial credit from formal financial service providers, more lucrative markets, rather than the traditional local markets, technology and information to establish and grow their businesses, national incentives in small enterprise development through gender blind private sector development and fiscal policies and legislation and training and education for small enterprise development.”[2]

Women; especially vulnerable women,  are most likely to draw on savings, borrow from friends and families and rely on micro finance as they are largely excluded from other sources of commercial finance.  This is due to the fact that cultural norms and values undermine women’s ability to inheret, own or control assests such as land and property. Even where there are no legal constraints , cultural practises undermine access to such legal recourse.


[1] This is a pseudonym.
[2] http://www.ilo.org/asia/whatwedo/projects/WCMS_099683/lang–en/index.htm

Author: Anne Hilton

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