Celebrating local successes against gender violence

Date: March 24, 2010
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Communities across Southern Africa are fighting an uphill battle against gender violence. Among other challenges, economic inequalities, cultural attitudes, and media stereotypes all hamper turning the tide. However, looking at the approximately 200 participants from ten countries who took part in the first Southern Africa Local Government and Gender Justice Summit and Awards held in Johannesburg 22-24 March, it’s clear that making a difference is more than possible when individuals, communities, and governments put their heads and hands together.

Taking place on the eve of Human Rights Day in South Africa and Namibia’s 20th anniversary of independence, the event showcased over 100 best practices led by local councillors and community activists for empowering women and ending gender violence.The range of approaches – supporting survivors, local responses, prevention campaigns, and institutional and individual innovation – shows that creativity and commitment can weave changes in our social fabric.

For Mary Chipango Chainda of Mongu Municipal Council in Zambia, more information and awareness is needed for women and men, to help them make better and more informed decisions. “Sensitising and educating young people on the dangers and effects of gender based violence (GBV) on individuals, families and communities must be ongoing,” she said.

According to Chainda, there are rampant cases of property grabbing in her area, which often leaves women desolate. Having realised this, she took the decision to take a stand to empower women. Chainda says that through increased awareness about GBV, more women formed associations and became more willing to report incidents of GBV.

Noelene Blekkenhorst of the Family and Marriage Society of South Africa (FAMSA) in Cape Town, says that men can also play a role in the fight against GBV. She adds that perpetrators of violence also need some form of psycho-educational treatment programme.

FAMSA works to provide support and protection for survivors of domestic violence and their children, whilst also providing treatment programmes, including working with men. “This treatment programme intervenes by equipping perpetrators with the necessary skills to overcome their violence and abusive behaviour, providing them with more appropriate, alternative behaviour patterns when faced with high risk abusive or violent situations,” she said

She adds that FAMSA deals with issues such as socialisation, low frustration tolerance, substance abuse, environmental stress, and gender stereotypes. According to Blekkenhorst, FAMSA recognises that domestic violence is a pandemic, which not only affects households but also communities.

“By working with these men, FAMSA is able to work towards equipping men with the tools to build an equality based relationship that is violence free. Therefore it is fair to say that not only do the men attending the group benefit from this intervention, but the partners and children as well,” she said.

She said this programme has proved to be effective, helping perpetrators change behaviour. She emphasised the importance of helping both victims and perpetrators of GBV to end the cycle of violence and the intergenerational transfer of violence to children through early exposure, which normalises violence.

One of the categories of best practices included in the Summit and Awards is “Individual Innovation.” Just as the category suggests, sometimes a single person can make a difference. “Individual innovation in the fight against GBV calls for citizens to take the fight single handed, without considering what others have done. The greatest efforts in the fights lies with the individual,” said Councillor Tasila Hara of Zambia.

Hara also emphasised the empowerment of women for sustainable development as one of the key aspects of reducing GBV. This echoes other indications that women’s economic dependence on their male partners can make them vulnerable to gender violence, as well as have health related consequences, especially in terms of HIV/ AIDS and reproductive health.

For example, in Swaziland, media stories often cite the so-called catalysts for domestic violence as being financially related – such as when there is contention in the home when wives request money for such things as school fees and household goods. Violence also occurs when women initiate sex, refuse to have sex, or ask their men where they have been.

Worse, many do not even feel they have any power in such situations, because they lack financial muscle to help themselves should things go wrong. Women in many situations have to ask their husbands for everything, even when they need menstrual pads, panties, water tanks, sewing machines and other things.

A World Vision Swaziland project is showing that Accumulative Savings and Credit Associations (ASCA) can have a huge impact on women’s lives. According to Thuli Chapa, World Vision programmes manager, this initiative has been implemented in different communities to help support basic risk protection and consumption needs of the most vulnerable groups.

“It is a community managed microfinance programme where a group of not more than 20 people save an agreed amount of money and loan it amongst the group members at agreed periods,” said Chapa. She says this is one strategy that can be used by other countries to help empower women economically to avoid dependency.

Chapa said through the savings and credit programme, the women become able to buy household needs and contribute towards the welfare of Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC) During their meetings, the women also share life skills and receive training on different issues affecting society, such as that of GBV and its relation to HIV and AIDS.

Whether tacking the need for information and awareness, challenging social stereotypes and expectations, working with men, or empowering women economically, it’s clear that there is action happening the ground that needs celebrating. Though the challenge remains steep, perhaps the key now is how do we support, and scale up, the many good initiatives that are often quietly gaining ground in the fight against gender violence.

Calsile Masilela is a journalist with the Swazi Observer. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.


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