On 9 August each year, we commemorate National Women’s Day to honour the 20,000 women who marched on the Union Buildings in 1956 to protest against an unjust system. This move represents just one part of a passionate activism by and for women that has always been a part of South Africa’s history.
Today, women’s organising – and indeed organising by people of all genders – plays a critical role in the fight against gender-based violence (GBV). South Africa has among the highest rates of GBV in the world, and violence against women and girls, and homophobic and transphobic violence are particularly prevalent. As women, girls and gender non-conforming people who live in this society, we live daily with the knowledge of our vulnerability. This knowledge is one we don’t leave behind in our activist work. Our vulnerability and our own trauma – as well as our strength and resilience – inform our work and our lives. Working in close proximity to GBV, the very thing that threatens our safety, brings with it daily reminders of our vulnerability, and the vulnerability of our sisters, children, partners and friends.
As the Joint Gender Fund, we see ourselves playing a positive role in helping to understand this and contribute towards addressing it. We know that calling for activists to find ways to revive themselves, rest and regenerate as a means of dealing with trauma can ring hollow in a context where there seems to be perpetually no money, no resources, and no time, coupled with demands that seem to be ever growing.
All these factors contribute to high levels of stress and trauma impacting on individuals, organisations, and the sector as a whole. As a Fund that is dedicated to supporting the growth and development of work in this field, we believe that acknowledging this context is essential in contributing towards regeneration, through caring about not only about survivors, but also ourselves, each other and our collective work.
In recognising this trauma, we also seek healing. Not because we see the sector as broken – on the contrary, awe-inspiring work is taking place and changing lives all across the country, from household to community to national level. But behind this powerful activism are activists who are whole people, people who need space to rest, reflect and find ways to move forward in a challenging context.
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While we recognise the impact of trauma on ourselves, our organisations and our sector, we also celebrate the incredible strength, resilience, dedication and passion of the activists fighting for a more just society. This Women’s Month, we remember 1956 and we remember all those who have lived and fought and died for our rights. We also honour those who continue to live and fight as we work together towards freedom, healing and a safer South Africa for all.
Ali Channon works as programme officer for the Joint Gender Fund at Hivos (Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries) South Africa.