- To increase the effectiveness of caregivers and community leaders in dealing with violence and abuse in South Africa.
- To overcome the hitherto limited nature of gender violence interventions, in terms of dealing with ‘victims’ or ‘survivors’, rather than agents, contributors and collaborators.
- To move beyond the current static model of victim-perpetrator, and to address the complexities of violence, and how to move beyond violence.
For each workshop the facilitator consults extensively with the local coordinator in each community. This determines the community’s needs in relation to the workshop offered, the target audience, languages (English, Afrikaans and Xhosa) and level of each workshop, as well as costs (such as catering and local transport). The facilitator is fluent in English and Afrikaans, with some Xhosa, while other languages (e.g. Sotho) need volunteer translators in each group. All workshops are done only on request, and requests far exceeded capacity to implement.
The following is a sample agenda from a previously completed workshop:
Each workshop started with registration, introductions, an icebreaker (led by local volunteer) and participants’ expectations of the workshop.
2. Trust Building
Participants embodied their own power in an imagined natural environment. This sort of exercise is successfully practiced in focus groups, shelters and other empowerment workshops, and is designed to build confidence and trust in the process, especially given the time constraint of a one-day workshop.
3. Gender Experiences
Participants were asked to think back to their first gendered moment/s, which is discussed in plenary. This helps participants to see the construction of gender as socialized, sometimes violent, and possible to change. During this exercise participants always shared their own, sometimes painful, experiences of gender, scenarios that were sometimes effectively used in case studies that they had to resolve later in the day. Victimhood was often unpacked during this exercise, which set the tone for the entire day.
4. Challenging Perceptions
Flash cards with different statements were shown to the participants and asked to classify as true and false, with much debate and challenge regarding some of the more controversial statements, e.g. “a man is the head of the household” or “women may demand sex”. The aim is to challenge stereotypes, preconceptions and prejudices, including gendered perceptions, biases around others’ sexualities, HIV/AIDS, and notions of dependency.
6. Power Role-Play
Immediately after lunch, where possible, a surprise power role-play would be performed by the facilitator and a volunteer participant, without prior knowledge of the rest of the group, with group discussion afterwards.
Once the tone of the workshop was set, and trust was established in the group, the final part of the workshop dealt with the necessary shift from victimhood to agency, more concretely the unpacking of power, victimhood and agency, and how women could empower themselves.
The day ended with individual written evaluations and a closure activity.
1. Transformation: Perceptions/Views
Participants were encouraged to think critically, and to challenge conventional gender norms and stereotypes, as well as to embody their own power, strength and beauty. Most women in each workshop expressed greater assertiveness and desire to exercise their power and claim their rights.
Participants understood themselves in context of society and culture, and that these are dynamic and not static, and hence subject to change, change that they could actively contribute to. This further helped them to feel more powerful and purposeful, especially with them starting their own women’s networks or other support structures, thus contributing to collective women’s movements. In embodying their own strength and power, participants grappled with why they tolerated injustice and abuse, and challenged themselves to transform their own lives within their available means.
2. Transformation: Behaviours
Sharing of survival strategies challenged and supported participants to claim their own power and agency and consequently change their real behaviours.
Several participants in each workshop clearly shifted from their long-term victimhood and, with the support of other participants, endeavoured to transform their lives. Participants were no longer willing to put up with abusive relationships or environments, with several women saying they would evict their abusive male partners or abusive children (we have a high rate of family violence, where children abuse their mothers in various ways).
A few members of different groups, during discussions of abusive behaviour and victim-perpetrator dynamics, volunteered examples of their own abusive behaviour patterns in relation to their families. They endeavoured to interrupt their own abusive behaviour, with the hope that this would contribute to more just and nonviolent communities. It is useful to note that these self-confessed female perpetrators of abuse in intimate relationships are by far the minority in relation to male on female abuse or violence, and that these women were often emotionally abusive, rather than physically violent, as most of the men in these communities are.
One woman was in a long-term abusive relationship with an unemployed drug addict, with whom she had several children. Through challenging her to acknowledge that she stayed in the relationship after each child, after each episode of violence and abuse, over several years, she was able to weigh costs and benefits more effectively, and to acknowledge that indeed she deserved and wished for a better life for herself and especially her children who were all suffering in school.
Other women remarked on the fact that their male partners expected them to be readily accessible sexually, and determined to be more assertive with their partners in future around their own sexual needs (or lack of sexual desire at particular times). One woman commented that she felt like a plucked chicken with its legs spread apart (and demonstrated this to her group), to the general agreement and much sympathetic laughter of the group. These kinds of changes in perception and behaviour occurred routinely in each workshop, and were indeed part of the intended outcomes of the workshop series.
Even women’s health became a subject in several of the workshops, where some women, in trying to reclaim their bodies and sexualities, would complain about menstrual cramps, which in many cases can be alleviated by regular gentle exercise. So in the GAP workshop, for example, a large number of the women, some grudgingly and others more readily, agreed to do more exercise (ironically South Africa has a high rate of obesity among women, even health care providers, due to starchy diets and a lack of regular cardiovascular exercise).
The guided visualization also powerfully illustrated our usual failure to care for ourselves, even as we care for our families and communities, and reminded participants to engage in more self-care and relaxation. The guided visualization was extremely successful, and most participants said during the workshop and in their individual evaluation forms that they would continue to use this as a relaxation exercise and personal empowerment tool, especially in harrowing socioeconomic contexts with widespread poverty and gender violence.
3. Increased solidarity among women
After each workshop, especially the rural ones, women would set dates for follow-on meetings to build a network of women to support each other. It would be useful to follow this up in future, with many rural women asking for further support.
4. Improved service delivery
Service providers who participated in the workshop were challenged to examine their own victimhood and embody their own agency, in order to more effectively render services to clients who are usually trapped in victimhood.
Service providers like the GAP participants discovered their own contradictions, e.g. remaining in abusive relationships with men who are routinely unfaithful to them and not even using safer sex practices like condoms. This particular group also expressed extreme dislike of their female bodies and sexualities (incl. menstruation), which were challenged and transformed, to the extent that they requested a follow-up workshop dealing specifically with women’s bodies and sexualities, and the need to reclaim its beauty and power.
Long-established and relatively powerful and well-resourced NGOs serviced by this project acknowledge the value of the workshops in challenging conventional gender trainings, which are cognitive (e.g. what women’s rights are), but not emotionally internalized, and hence not as effectively transformative. These organizations now realize the importance of work on a deeper level, even for established service providers, and wish to continue future collaborations.
As a direct result of this project, and from extensive conversations Engender has had with rural NGOs, such as Women on Farms and the Centre for Rural Legal Studies, they are now more challenged about improving the reach, extent and nature of their services to rural communities.
We also managed to make existing service providers, especially those ostensibly focused on rural areas, aware of what the needs of these actual communities are, and implored them to attempt to service these under-served communities. Service providers often work in isolation of the communities they serve (e.g. a stationery shelter or advice desk which doesn’t go into the community itself but has people come to it to access services). And this form of direct action by Engender, which provides invaluable feedback to existing service providers, is often appreciated, and challenges these service providers to ensure their services are accessible and relevant to the communities they serve, let alone to make communities aware of these existing and available services.
5. Greater access to service provision and ongoing support
As a result of the workshop, participants are now able to access their rights and various services in concrete ways, e.g. government financial grants and/or legal advice or legal protection in various contexts. They realized they had access to these, and were actively engaged in accessing these, to empower themselves, and to improve their lives, and their communities. Engender provided each community with an appropriate list of possible service providers from whom the community could seek further support.
After the workshop in Bonnievale, the facilitator discovered that even rural service providers, incl. the Women on Farms Project, the Centre for Rural Legal Studies and the Southern Cape Land Committee do not cover the under-serviced Bonnievale area, despite the apparent need in that area (from corrupt white farmers denying emergent black women farmers who are former farmers on the erstwhile white farm, to excessively high rates of child abuse, rape and domestic violence). Through extensive consultation and research, Engender helped connect the local Bonnievale community leader with various appropriate service providers, NGOs and government services.
As a direct result of this project, and through Engender’s initiative, the Cape Town Interfaith Movement and the group, Women of Faith in Dialogue, have begun collaboration with Engender on producing an accessible booklet “Beyond Faith in Patriarchy”, which will help people understand their faiths in historic and social context, especially patriarchal interpretations and expressions of religious texts (e.g. Torah, Bible, Qur’an). This group consists of people of the following faiths: Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Indigenous/Matriarchal. This booklet will greatly support the challenge posed during workshops, when participants quote Biblical text which e.g. states men as heads of households, which is in direct contradiction of our progressive legislation, e.g. Constitutional provision for gender equality.