On the 19th of August 2021 (Thursday), Africa Unite in partnership with the Institute for the Healing of Memories KwaZulu Natal, hosted an intergenerational women’s community dialogue for women only, as part of women’s month empowerment. The educational dialogue was attended by senior citizens and young ladies from the community of Mariannridge community. The dialogue was supported by our partner organisation, Community Leaders, Community Care Givers (CCG’s), Church leaders, and local community members. The dialogue aimed to raise consciousness on the war against women and children, some participants dressed in black as part of the Global movement #thursdaysinblack by the World Council of Churches. The dialogue was attended by 25 people.
The dialogue created a safe space for young and old ladies to share the issues that affect them directly or indirectly. Identified “burning issues” and collectively find positive ways to deal with them as women and find solutions on how to build better communities that promote peace and unity. These ladies’ ages ranged from 18 years and older. The majority are unemployed single mothers, “burning issues” of GBV, rape, gangsterism, HIV&AIDS, unemployment, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, a high number of schools dropouts, absent fathers, overcrowded homes, and poverty in this community. This community has a major history of violence, and ongoing violence, is still up to date. Participants were divided into two groups and discussed the causes of GBV and came up with possible solutions.
Root Causes of GBV from Plenary:
- The issue of dependency on men, is very much one of the key roots to GBV, in this community as most of women here, are not working and they depend on their partners for survival.
- Absent fathers also play a role, because there is no one to raise a boy child in the manner that they are supposed to, and if the father was present still the child was exposed to abuse as he will see his father beating his mom every day and he will grow up thinking it was the right thing to do
- Ongoing exposure to violence, gangsterism, stabbings, shootings
- Depression and frustration because of poverty and hunger also contributes to some GBV
- Lack of communication and emotional healing, between parents and kids, parents need to be skilled as well as children on communication, we do not speak to our kids. If we teach them at a young stage, this will help. As the school does not really cover emotional help, and we as parents are “broken” ourselves
- “Burning issue” – “why do women stay?” causes of the endurance of GBV mentioned are, being in “so called love” and not ready to leave an abuser, being financially dependent on the abuser
- Vicious cycle of abuse creating more abusers.
How do we address these issues as Women?
- As Women of Mariannridge, I think we need to come together and be united against GBV, we need to support each other emotionally, if one is being abused, they need to support her and help her, instead of judging and criticizing each other.
- Maybe we need women empowerment programs/skills that will equip women to be independent because the dependency on men, as we are right now, make’s women more vulnerable and easily to be abused.
- Men are also being abused, we need to not look at it at one side, but we need to be open minded about it and bring men and boys into such sessions, where they are able to share and learn about GBV.
- As young girls as well, we need to be taught, how a man should rightfully treat us. As our surroundings has damaged our way of thinking. In our community if a man hits you, it means he loves you, and we have grown up thinking that is right and acceptable, this is so sad so true and heart breaking.
Feedback from Partners:
- The women of Marian Ridge expressed their keenness of being at this dialogue from the introductory stage. They were a very outspoken and energetic group of participants. With a diversity of women, ages ranging from 18 and above, from different religions as well. Apart from being there to celebrate themselves as women, it was an opportunity to express their thoughts on some of the burning issues in the community. Gender based violence (GBV) was one of the biggest issues that came up throughout the different stages of the dialogue. “Hidden scars” of the past, one of the participants explained very graphically what took place in years of her marriage where her now late husband would smash her head on the floor. Another explained how she was sent away from home at a tender age, so that she would not witness her mother being abused.
- We can surely say, this was a very fruitful engagement which at some point engagements were tense and personal. GBV has been really an issue in this community, and it has become a norm they are just used to it. There was a comment which really got to me, when one lady said, “we only smile when we get out of the house, so this platform has been like a stress reliever to us as women.” Women also agreed that GBV does not only affect females, but there are men who also get abused and even raped but the stats of men abuse are very low due to the society, men normally will not report such cases.
- Maybe to have more of these sessions with teenagers, we can have with girls only, and the with boys, and then we can combine the two groups of youngsters, later with parents. (Family counselling/sessions)
- Safe spaces to speak, without judgement and confidentiality is important. The ladies were very open and noted that they had to respect each other’s stories /testimonies.
- We are broken beyond pieces and need to deal with our pain from the past, and present ongoing pain. As we further end up hurting ourselves and others, by not dealing with it.
- Woman in the community also need such safe spaces to speak, as it is not normally done, and we tend to judge without listening to one another’s pain. (Support Groups)
Closing Comments from participants:
- It was so good to be outdoors, we normally take trees, fresh air, the sound of cars, listening to the wind blow, listening to each other for granted.
- It was the first time I spoke freely with others, whereas we live in the same community and normally just walk pass each other.
- It felt good been out the house, as sometimes I feel like I’m not coping stressing for daily needs.
- I feel much lighter by sitting, I don’t know when the last time was I sat in a peaceful environment.
- I feel so supported, just by been given a chance to speak and be listened to.