Living Social Justice

A blog about responding to poverty and injustice, everyday and in all sorts of ways

Archive for the tag “women”

What’s it really like to be a woman in South Africa?

Inspired by Women’s Day, Sam Rawson shares how meeting a homeless mother in a parking lot challenged her understanding.

I’ll never forget the night I met Ayanda*. I was rushing back to my car across the grocery store parking lot when she called to me. It was dark, cold, and I was alone. All my instincts told me to put my head down and get in my car. But then I heard another cry – this time the desperate cry of a baby – and I stopped.

She came over to me with a bundle in her arms, and asked if I had any money for her and her baby. By now I was thinking, “Oh dear, why on earth did I stop?!” But I could see her belongings piled up against the wall behind her and something compelled me to not brush her off.

I asked her what her name was and where they were staying. She pointed to the nearby canal and told me they slept under the bridge. Her baby was only three months old. Feeling overwhelmed and helpless, I offered to buy her a meal and some baby supplies.

Over the course of the next few months, I got to know Ayanda’s story a bit better as I tried to help her in various ways. But it wasn’t easy. She told me differing versions of her life story that didn’t match up.

And then there was the phone call from the police station to tell me she’d been arrested and put in jail for the night with her baby – and could I bring her supper?

And then there was the time she ran across a busy street – dodging cars with her baby strapped to her back – just to avoid me because she’d been drinking.

And then there were also her repeated attempts to get me to take care of her baby for her. Me – a single girl of 24 at the time!

The initial compassion I’d felt for her in that dark parking lot began to ebb. And then sputter. And then all but die away.

Why I am telling you this story? It sounds pretty hopeless, right?

My purpose was to write a blog post celebrating Women’s Day, but as I sat in front of my computer, I kept thinking of Ayanda.

Both Ayanda and I share something very basic in common. We are both women. We were both born and raised in the same country, but our stories couldn’t be more different.

At the age of 15, I was at a good school, loved and encouraged by my family and given numerous opportunities to grow my skills and talents. But by 15, Ayanda had already dropped out of school and run away from home.

When I turned 21, I was studying at university, living in a digs with my friends, and enjoying the carefree life of a student. By 21, Ayanda had been hardened by years of living on the streets and was already living a life patterned by abuse and addiction.

The sad reality is that women in South Africa are not all born equal. The latest Census 2011 results shows that 12% of black women (aged 20) have had no schooling – zero! – as opposed to 0.6% of white women. The results also show that black women have the highest unemployment rate in the country, with 41% of black women and 24% of coloured women unemployed. This statistic is 6.9% for white women.**

As women, I think we can sometimes be quick to judge one another. I know I certainly judged Ayanda when she made decisions I saw as being irresponsible for a mother. I saw the addiction, the manipulation, and what seemed to be unwillingness on her part to change.

Why did she return to the streets after we’d found her permanent shelter?  Why did she put her baby son in danger when she could protect him?  Why did she not see what her addiction was doing to herself and her baby?

I buried my judgement behind questions like these, safe in the knowledge that I would never make those mistakes in my own life.

And yet, as I’ve reflected, I’ve realised that my questions, though well-meaning, were not the right ones.  There are bigger, more uncomfortable questions about Ayanda’s story which I neglected to ask.

Why was she forced onto the streets as a teenager? Why was she robbed of her education? Did anyone fight for her rights as a child?

These are just a few of the many unasked questions which litter our South African context, in the same way that they do Ayanda’s story.  They’re questions which I didn’t think to ask, because they weren’t relevant in my own life.  And yet, for Ayanda, to not ask them would be to misunderstand her situation as a woman entirely.

Until we can begin to grapple with these bigger issues, we may end up judging those around us too quickly and hardening our hearts, when they should be softened to the core.

In Ayanda’s case, it eventually became necessary to get social services involved for the well-being of her baby. Even though I believed it was necessary, it was still heart-breaking to watch her hand over her child into a stranger’s care.

Afterwards, she still clung to the empty bag in which she’d kept his clothes, bottles and nappies. I believe that, in her own way, and with the cards stacked against her, she’d tried to be a good mother.

How should we celebrate Women’s Day when being a woman in South Africa can look so different depending on which side of the socio-economic divide you’re born?

I’m challenging myself to judge less, and listen and love more, knowing that each woman has a very unique story to tell.

Here are some practical ways you can celebrate Women’s Day in the months ahead:

1. Drop off receiving blankets and new-born clothing for mothers at Mowbray Maternity Hospital

2. Build friendships with abused women by joining the Sisters Incorporated Bible study every Monday night (Email us for more info)

3. Help build into the lives of young women by volunteering at one of Izandla Zethemba‘s weekly support groups (Email us for more info)

4. How much do you really know about the lives of the women around you? Your domestic worker, for example? Or the cleaner at your office? Why not offer to make them a cup of tea and spend some time listening to their story?

Do you have any other ideas?

– Sam works part-time for Common Good, offering communications support. Her and her husband, Jonothan, are members of the Common Ground BoschPM congregation.

Name changed

** Source: http://www.statssa.gov.za/Publications/P03014/P030142011.pdf

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A Few Good Men

In today’s post, Common Good volunteer Roger Wood has something to say to the men of our country and the role they need to play in making a change.

Photo Credit: Architect-Licious via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Architect-Licious via Compfight cc

For too long men have left the fight against violence and the abuse of women and children to the women in our communities.  Women have been the mouth piece, because it is the women who have borne the brunt of the pain and injustice.  Men have stepped back perhaps because they feel overwhelmed by the problem or perhaps they feel inadequate in providing a solution.  Jesus was not afraid to tackle the injustices of the society of His day.  He reached out to the hurting and marginalised, bringing compassion and healing.

So how can we help?

I believe it starts with our own attitude to the people who cross our path every day.  The people at the train station or bus stop, the teller in the supermarket , the receptionist at work, the secretaries, cleaners, telephonist, bank clerks and a whole host of others with whom we interact.  How do we treat these people?  Do we greet them and acknowledge their contribution to our lives?  Do we take an interest in their lives and their opinions?  Do we push in front of them to get our place on the train? Do we offer them our seat when the train is full or do we make them stand? Do we ask the cleaner at work about her child’s education or encourage your own child’s teacher as she seeks to control and discipline a whole classroom full of children?

If we drive to work do we criticise others driving as being ‘typical of a women’. At work do we pass on the stereotypical blonde joke or do we mix with the ‘boys’ rating the attractiveness of the new female assistant?  It’s all a matter of how much we respect one another across the gender line.  We live in a society where words are often used to put women down.  We treat them as inferior and when we see them that way we treat them with less respect.  Younger men are looking for role models and they will follow our example.  We therefore need to look at the example we are setting.  We need to have the courage to speak out and challenge others who adopt these wrong attitudes.

When we see films and programmes on TV which portray sexual harassment, we should write to the relevant authorities or the newspapers to complain.  When we see the magazines on the shelves in our supermarket that portray women as sex objects for men, we should have the courage to complain to the management.  We need to speak out about advertising that is offensive and portrays women in the wrong way.

We need also to look for practical ways of helping those NGO’s and church groups seeking to help women caught in the web of violence and abuse.  As men, we may not be the best ones to go out onto the streets to talk to the prostitutes but we can support organisations such as Staatwerk, by coming alongside the women who go out to talk to these ladies.  We can help not just with money but with encouragement, time and transport.

When we do come across others who we feel are being abused we need to treat them with great sensitivity.  Befriend them where we can, show empathy and understanding.  Encourage them not to remain silent.  Urge them to seek help.  The abuse is not their fault; no one asks to be abused.

Lastly, married men need to be the role models in their homes, honouring and treating their wives as equals.  Men need to talk to their children educating boys in the correct attitudes towards masculinity, as well as teaching their daughters about their rights.  Men have a crucial role to play as fathers, friends and leaders.  They need to be the voice of the oppressed and the hurting.  They need to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Over the past week, we’ve been posting articles in an attempt to facilitate conversation around domestic abuse in South Africa. We’d love to hear your thoughts – please comment, share and get people talking! This is too important an issue for silence.

Acting Against Domestic Violence

Linda Fugard, the manager of Sister’s Incorporated, a home for abused women, shares with us her response to Anene Booysen’s tragic death, proving that we all can make a difference.

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When I heard the news of Anene Booysen’s brutal death on Sat, 2 February 2013, I was deeply touched and knew that I had to do something. I couldn’t just say, “Oh, another day, another statistic,” and carry on with my life. So I called my staff  together to pray for Anene’s family and to ask God what He wanted us to do.

The Western Cape Network on Violence Against Women called a meeting on Friday, 8th February, to address this issue as civil society. At first I thought that I couldn’t attend as I had so much on my plate. I’d been away from Sisters that week for two days attending our provincial Victim Empowerment Programme summit, where Joy from St. Anne’s and I did a presentation on the Western Cape’s Women’s Shelter Movement. Plus, I was leaving the next week for Johannesburg.

But I woke up that Friday morning and had the distinct feeling in the pit of my stomach that I had to attend that meeting. So I heeded God’s prompting and went.

I am so glad that I did. There were over 50 of us from various NGO’s coming together in solidarity.

A friend came up with one of my many suggestions for the meeting, the power of one. One person can make a difference by standing up and saying “NO MORE”. I also asked, “What can we do for the family today? What can we do for the community within the next week?  And how do we change things in SA? How can we make her death count like Amy Biehl’s death has counted?”

We quickly organised a collection to buy flowers to be taken to the funeral the next day by one representative, as well as food. We then looked at a team doing a specific press release, another team organising the march to parliament, and another looking at the justice system. Very quickly we started to put a plan into place.

When we heard that the municipality wanted to start a shelter in her name we quickly offered to work with them to help them with the process of setting this up.

We are also looking at the resources available in the area and calling in experts in the field where the resources are scarce. At the national summit, we sent a statement of support which was endorsed by the whole summit and read out at the gathering at Parliament.

We have also signed various petitions and The National Shelter Movement of SA (of which I am one of the executives) did a presentation at the summit saying enough is enough. Enough meetings, enough talking, enough promises. We need action NOW.

We have all got to stand as one and fight the fight together until domestic violence and rape is no longer tolerated in our country. We cannot go on being called “the rape capital of the world”. What an indictment on our country.

Let’s pray. Let’s hold vigils. Let’s march. Let’s educate. Let’s be the change we want to see.

– Every Monday night, the women from Sisters Incorporated and a group of volunteers from Common Ground Church meet for a women’s Bible study. Email info@commongood.org.za if you’d like more info on how to get involved.

Domestic Violence: It All Starts With The Child

David Harrison, the Chief Executive Officer of The DG Murray Trust, shares how he believes we can break the cycle of violence in South Africa. And how we can get involved in the solution.

Photo Credit: horrigans via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: horrigans via Compfight cc

Do you remember that horrific picture in the Cape Times last year, of a terrified man kneeling in front of a crowd in Khayelitsha preparing to necklace him?  As if that scene wasn’t bad enough, the really bone-chilling stuff was happening behind him, where mothers stood holding the hands of their toddlers as they too watched a man screaming to death.  Those flames must have burnt into the psyche of those children.

We won’t break the cycle of violence in South Africa through a better justice system.  Yes, we desperately need that.  Without trust in the system, women and children won’t report abuse and perpetrators will do it again and again.  But a better system is not enough.  And we won’t break the cycle of violence through campaigns – important though they are in keeping the issue in the public consciousness.  We will only break the cycle of violence if we can stop it in the home, way before the man lifts his hand against his partner.  You see, it must start with the child.

In the past decade, scientists like Jack Shonkoff have shown the relationship between chronic stress in children and dysfunctional and dangerous adulthood.  “The active ingredient in the environment…”, says Shonkoff,  “is the quality of the relationships that children have with the important people in their lives. That’s what it’s all about.”  Where mothers are constantly moving from home to home looking for food or a bit of money; where fathers are absent or only around binge-drinking over the weekends; where children of three or four wander around on streets instead of being part of early learning centres – then societies turn on themselves, and turn violent.

So what can be done?

Let’s start by focusing more on the child – and let’s start with what WE can do.  The child psychologist Alice Miller describes the “essential role of an enlightened witness” in the lives of children.  People who can be there with the child – understand his or her hurt, even if they can’t take it away.  Miller’s view is that the role of a witness enables a child to unload the pain – externalise the anger and prevent it becoming bottled up in our very genes.  There are about 35 000 children born in the City of Cape Town each year who are at particular risk – whose lives will be stressful and insecure.  Will you reach out to just one of them and be their witness as they grow up?

We Are Not Afraid of God’s Face

Photo Credit: una cierta mirada via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: una cierta mirada via Compfight cc

In the wake of the horrific rape and murder of Anene Booysen, Nathalie Koenig chatted to the women at Sisters Incorporated to hear what they had to say about the abuse of women in this country.

I once asked God to show me His face. It was one of those repeated pleas – “Show me your face Lord. Showmeyourfaceshowmeyourface”. And He showed me the faces of some children I knew. Women I knew. Friends. Family members. Now looking at a snapped ID photo of Anene Booysen, I’m unsettled by the earnestness of her expression. And am asking again for God to show me His face. And I think that He is.

On 2 February, 17-Year old Anene Booysen was gang-raped and mutilated in Bredasdorp.  She died later in hospital, after identifying one of her attackers. (For the full story, click here)

Upon reading or hearing of Anene’s story, many of us may have been shocked or saddened, but how many of us would have responded with the thought “It could have been me”?

This was one woman’s response at Sisters Incorporated. Sisters Incorporated, one of Common Good’s partner organisations, is a shelter in Kenilworth that provides a place of safety and healing to vulnerable women. The residents of Sisters all have stories, as do countless other women in our city, and our nation.

Anene’s story is not one that stands alone.

Read more…

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