Nkhensani Mabasa’s activism is not always popular in her village. Faced with slow action on domestic and sexual violence cases reported to traditional authorities, Mabasa and other women in her community successfully lobbied for the right to access justice by reporting cases directly to the police rather than through the local chief, as was custom.
It was no easy task in a community where women seldom have the right to speak. Even threats that her family would be forced to leave the village did not stop her organising and spreading the word about women’s rights. “I told my family not to focus on the present state of affairs, but to focus on the future as there were many things happening in my community,” she recalls, referring to widespread and usually unreported instances of gender violence.
Yet a succession of letters, sustained pressure to speak at village authorities’ meetings, and pro-active mobilising, and change did happen. Mabasa credits training she received from People Opposing Women Abuse’s (POWA) Raising Her Voice Programme with arming her with the information she needed. RHV is just one of POWA’s many programmes making a difference to women’s lives in South Africa.
A comprehensive approach
Established in 1979 by a group of women volunteers who saw a need to provide shelter and referral services to women experiencing domestic violence, POWA’s frontline services are still a vital component of the organisation’s work, However, this has also expanded to include a host of other strategies for empowering women and working towards equal rights.
Frontline Services - Shelters, counseling, and legal advice - As one of our core frontline services, POWA provides shelter services for clients (and their children where relevant) who have been the victims of GBV. POWA also provides several forms of counseling, such as face-to-face counseling, support groups;
Advocacy - The Legal and Advocacy Department at POWA works to provide quality women-centred legal service and engage in national and regional advocacy for the protection and promotion of women’s rights. POWA’s advocacy work includes advocating for legal reform, as well as advocacy campaigns, such as the 1 in 9 Campaign, the Triple Seven Campaign, Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR), as well as leading the South African component of the eight-nation Raising Her Voice Campaign;
Outreach & Media - Conducting local, provincial and national human rights education and awareness workshops is a critical component of keeping women’s rights in the public consciousness. Through liaising with media, developing plain language publications, and even using creative strategies such as radio dramas, POWA’s strategy is to source, package and disseminate quality, credible, accurate and appropriate information to stimulate debate, discussion and activity on violence against women, and its intersections with poverty and HIV;
Training and development - the overall goal of the Training and Development component of POWA’s work is to build capacity – internally and externally – to strengthen GBV interventions that are women-centred and rights-based, ensuring our interventions respond to the intersections between GBV, HIV and poverty;
- Feminist Research and Knowledge Production - Keeping the gender based violence sector and other related and relevant sectors informed about violence against women and gender based violence is essential in ensuring that responses address the needs of women in South Africa and the sub-region. The findings of POWA’s research are translated into publications, presentations and advocacy briefs and plain language leaflets.
Empowering women, positive change
An evaluation of POWA conducted in 2011 pointed out some areas for improvement, but overwhelmingly indicated the vital role POWA plays in responding to the problem of violence against women in South Africa. While Nkhensani Mabasa used POWA training to catalyse change in her community, she also says that when sexual violence hit closer to home, she was better prepared and knew what to do to assist the survivor to successfully pursue her case, as well as receive much-needed counselling.
The drastic need for such frontline services means that shelter and counselling remain a critical component of the services POWA offers. Such services are a critical factor in enabling survivors of gender violence to find their feet again, and to begin the process of healing.
“I thought it was the end of me, and they [POWA] have made me stand on my feet again and get focused,” said one shelter client interviewed for the evaluation. “There was this shadow over me, and I was just hopeless and miserable. And for now I can see a little bit of sunshine.”
Another mentioned the importance of having someone to speak with, “From my side, they are helping a lot. Sometimes you are scared to talk about your problems, but if you want to talk about something, they let you talk. They are there as a shoulder to cry on.”
POWA’s advocacy work is also recognised as leading in the country and in the region. “POWA are brilliant in terms of their advocacy and legal advocacy. They are particularly strong in relation to holding the state accountable in South Africa,” said on national advocacy partner during the evaluation.
Another regional partner also noted, “They are very vocal, and one of the things that I have learnt from POWA is that their advocacy is more aggressive in comparison with others in the region. I think this is a strong point that POWA has been able to bring on board.”
Challenges and next steps
Like many organisation’s during the period of economic slow down and donor cut-backs, a key challenge is funding and resources. The demand for services, as well as the need for sustained and ongoing advocacy, requires more resources than is available.
However, as the organisation has done over the past 30 years, it will continue to play its important role in South Africa society. This year will see the expansion and roll out of the Raising Her Voice programme, as well as the release of a 4-language serial radio drama. There is still many stones left unturned and many remote areas to reach. the organisation will continue to grow and expand, but also calls on every person, male, female, young and old, to take their own stand to end violence against women.
For more about People Opposing Women Abuse, refer to www.powa.co.za.