Written by Rebecca Lenz who volunteered at New World Foundation in September 2016
According to government statistics every sixth woman in South Africa regularly experiences domestic violence. Nevertheless true numbers are difficult, if not impossible to identify since a lot of incidents happen behind closed doors or in private spaces and recur without ever being reported.
If you ask Lavender Hill’s residents though, domestic violence seems omnipresent. It would be difficult to find somebody who doesn’t at least know one woman who has been affected or is a victim herself. Even though men also become victims of domestic violence, it’s mostly women who suffer from abusive male partners.
In a community like Lavender Hill, where gangs, drugs and violence are a way of life, and it’s especially dangerous for women, it seems even more important to have a safe home or private space that offers shelter and warmth. If women face abuse in their own homes, where can they still be safe?
In order to make Lavender Hill a safer place, the local community organisation New World Foundation (NWF) organised a five-day training about prevention of violence against women (VAW) which was facilitated by two women activists of the campaign “Prevention in Action” from Durban. The goal was to educate selected community members on domestic violence and empower them to become activists of the campaign themselves and implement the concept in Lavender Hill and Vrygrond.
What keeps domestic violence alive in this community of Lavender Hill and Vrygrond? The participants tried to get to the bottom of this key question in several plenum discussions.
People are aware that it’s wrong to be beaten, kicked or spit at by their intimate partner, that insulting, blackmailing or forcing them to have sex, just as damage to their property are different types of domestic violence and reason enough to lay charges against their partners at court.
It’s not a lack of knowledge that keeps domestic violence alive. It rather seems to be social norms, a lack of financial support and trust in the justice systems in addition to excessive alcohol and drug abuse within the home. And most importantly: silence. Silence of victims and of the community as a whole driven by fear and shame and the absurd fact that violence against women is normal.
This is where the “Prevention in Action”- campaign and training steps in. Its goal is to transform a way of inaction into a way of action.
Put into practice the concept unfolds as followed: The training participants now called “Community Engager” gained knowledge to go into their community to recruit five to ten so-called “Community Influencers” in the following weeks and form “Prevention in Action Groups”. These will then organise different actions to call the attention to domestic violence and prevent violence against women (VAW).
The first actions already took place during the course of the training. In co-operation with the aftercare program at NWF, the community engagers organised a prayer walk through Lavender Hill in memory of all the lost lives during the latest shootings. Wearing their Prevention in Action t-shirts and carrying their signs calling for violence free zones the training participants attracted lots of attention in the community. Curious faces appeared behind curtains and fences, some even joined in the march. A great start for the campaign in Lavender Hill!
Everything starts at their own homes though, their flats and their streets. By putting up colourful signs the activists marked and declared their flats to be “violent free homes”.
Throughout the week the participants didn’t only learn about domestic violence and practiced in role plays how to recruit “Community Influencers”, they also played educational and life skills games together and shared personal experiences about domestic violence which created a strong bond between the participants.
The activists will and have already faced some difficulties trying to recruit more people to become part of the campaign. Besides lots of positive feedback they’ve received, not everyone seems to be sharing the same enthusiasm for the idea of the campaign, others are simply too afraid to openly fight for women’s rights or even their own rights.
The movement still needs to grow and prosper in Lavender Hill and Vrgrond. A strong support team motivating one another is therefore essential. Currently, the support team comprises of the community engagers, Lynette Oliver (Women Centre Coordinator), Kim Pillay (Deputy Director) and Rebecca Lenz (Volunteer) of NWF and the community coordinators of the Street and Court Committees the latter of who are well accustomed to violence prevention work in their communities already.
Mahatma Gandhi once said: “Strength does not come from physical capacity; it comes from an indomitable will.” A will, that each and every one of the training’s participants share: to make Lavender Hill and Vrygrond safer places than they are today.