In a nutshell
The Consciousness Raising Programme empowers women from disadvantaged communities in KwaZulu-Natal to develop their own solutions to the problems they are confronting – many relating to domestic and gender-based violence. The programme facilitates joint learning groups and capacitates women to engage with relevant stakeholders from their communities, local police and government.
What we do
The Consciousness Raising Programme is part of the work of Project Empower to support and capacitate women in developing their own, individual solutions to the challenges they face in everyday life – many of them related to domestic violence and gender-based violence.
Project Empower first started out working to build the capacity of communities to respond to HIV. The organisation’s scope has expanded, and they now increasingly work with women, focusing on sexual, reproductive and other rights of women and supporting the capacity of women to defend their rights. Project Empower works in Kwazulu-Natal, in informal settlements and two rural areas.
How we do it
Towards the aim of empowering women, the Consciousness Raising Programme includes a range of key activities and strategies:
Project Empower organises women into women’s groups, to discuss their experiences as women, their lived realities, and their experiences with GBV. The methodology is experiential, participatory and learner centred, drawing on the life experience of participants. Participants discuss how power and power relations at a personal, interpersonal and societal level shape their experiences. Through guided processes of reflection, Project Empower assists participants to define their own solutions to the problems they are confronting.
Understanding Rights Violations
Many women experience GBV in their home and in their community, which they may take for granted as part of normal life. Some don’t recognise, or are unable to name these, as being rights violations. For Project Empower, the first step is enabling women to understand how those incidents are rights violations and thereafter how they can support one another in bringing justice into their lives.
Lived Realities of Women
Before building a programme of action with women, Project Empower has learned that there is a need to listen carefully to the lived realities of women in communities and not to impose an analysis or a solution.. This supports the design of longer term objectives and longer term impact indicators.
Demanding Better Services
Good policing services are an important part of the fight against gender based violence. However, in Project Empower’s experience, the police sometimes fail to provide the required services to women. In response, Project Empower works with women at community level to empower and capacitate them to demand better services from policing. Project Empower supports women to complain about inadequate police services, to ensure that police take these complaints seriously and take remedial action.
Rather than engaging with stakeholders directly, Project Empower prefers to work with women across the community and enable them to negotiate with stakeholders. This is important because it builds the power of women in communities to become activists around their own issues, which builds sustainability.
What we have achieved
Consciousness Raising Groups
Since initiating the programme, Project Empower has organised more than 500 women into consciousness raising groups. The first impact of these groups is on the individuals themselves, as they begin to make change in their own lives. However individuals in these groups also often engage in community activities, widening the reach and expanding awareness and dialogue.
Women finding Voice
After being members of a consciousness raising group for a year, women in one rural community were ready to confront authorities in the community around their inability to accessing land in their own name, a lack of response to GBV, and lack of representation in community decision making forums, all of which contribute to cycles of violence against women.
Many women stay in abusive relationships in order to keep a roof over their heads because they can’t access land in their own right. Project Empower has succeeded in raising consciousness about and building the capacity of women to understand these kinds of rights violations and to take these issues forward to the authorities that are representing them.
What we have learned
A key challenge is the need for medium term resourcing. Activities are severely constrained by inadequate funding and projects have to be designed to reach very specific outcomes in short time frames. These requirements are in conflict with the need to build women’s capacity which is a longer term process.
The next step of the project is to support women as they engage firstly with traditional authorities, secondly with municipal authorities, and thirdly with policing and health authorities in order to address the rights violations that women have identified.