2010-09-21 00:00

THE Women’s  Leadership and  Training Programme (WLTP) began in 1984 with a dream.

“I was standing on the bank of a river. On the opposite bank were women holding out their hands to me. With tears rolling down their cheeks, they were imploring me to come and work with them,” said Emilia Charbonneau, a member of a worldwide women’s movement, The Grail. Marilyn Aitken was inspired by the dream and WLTP was the result.

The non-governmental organisation is based in Underberg and recently celebrated its 25 years of existence.

WLTP’s current Emthonjeni programme, which began in 2007, works to build the leadership skills and potential of four groups of women — pre-teen girls, teenage girls, unemployed young women in Hlokozi, KwaMashu and the southern Ukhahlamba Drakensberg area,­ and influential young women.

“Our method helps girls to develop their creativity and to grow mentally and spiritually,” said Sibongile Mtungwa, director­ of WLTP.

“Women can be so oppressed by culture, patriarchy, peer pressure and materialism­, that they don’t think there is anything better.”

Mtungwa herself has first-hand experience with gender oppression. “I was in a relationship with a young man for nine years. I decided to end it because I saw many opportunities for studying and he would have stifled me. I was abducted twice. No girl should be taken like that. We train women to be assertive and to realise that they are amazing as they are and that they do not need material things to make them happy or feel worthy.”

The aims of the project include the creating­ of new women heroes to motivate women leaders, to nurture a culture of hard work and to recognise their power in using it for the good of others.

“In its gender training, WLTP performs surgery on women’s eyes, removing the cultural cataract that prevents them from examining their culture. WLTP has helped women recognise their God-given strength and to build sisterhood among women,” said former WLTP staff member Samkelesiwe Mhlanga, the new South African ambassador to Denmark.

This year is the International Year of Biodiversity and WLTP women are educating people to stop the senseless killing of wild creatures. Four teenage girls are hoping to attend the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Japan in October, but they are struggling to raise funds.

• For more information, please e-mail Marilyn Aitken at maitken@mail. or phone Sibongile Mtungwa at 033 702 1941.


Prevention against women abuse

The Prevention In Action movement aims to break the silence about violence against women and take action against it.

The KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape networks on violence against women have partnered with various sectors to ignite this social movement which promotes action as a natural response to violence against women.

According to a recent study conducted by Project Concern International (PCI) and Markinor, 50% of the respondents reported that men in their community often hit their girlfriends and 38% said that women and girls were often raped in their community.

The research also revealed many statements, such as that famililes should not interfere, that are used by the community to justify or explain the persistence of violence against women.

The social movement’s aim is to get people­ to take action against violence against women and send out a clear message to perpetrators of violence in the community that there is zero tolerance, not only from the law, but also from the people. The movement also aims to support survivors of violence and encourage the families of survivors to support them.

“We believe that a society needs to be created which doesn’t tolerate violence against women and which acts to prevent it,” said Cookie Edwards, director of the KZN Network on Violence Against Women­.

“The social movement envisions a community in which violence against women is never justified or tolerated and that men and women are committed to acting in reponse to such violence.

“People know that violence against women is wrong, but they don’t know what action they should take to prevent it. Their inaction is often underpinned by the idea that there are reasons behind the conflict and that becoming involved carries the risk of being harmed,” explained Edwards. “All it takes is for one person to act and others will help. Everyone wants to do something, but they are scared to. Everything that started in life, started with one person.”

So now is the time to begin. The next time you see a woman being abused or raped, do something: encourage affected women­ to seek help, influence others to join the movement and circulate the Stop Gender Violence helpline number.

“People are accepting violence against women as the norm. We need to break away from this and change the way that society thinks,” said Edwards.

“Society knows that it is wrong, but because people are hesitant to act, this violence­ has become normalised. Inaction only allows it to continue.”

• For information, advice, ideas for action, one-to-one telephonic counselling and support, or for a referral to services that are available in your area, phone the Stop Gender Violence hotline at 080 015 0150. The helpline is for men and women (survivors, witnesses or perpetrators). The service is available from 7 am to 9 pm every day and is available in all South African languages. The help-line provides an anonymous and confidential platform for people who need to talk about domestic violence and other issues of abuse.


Shelter for women who are abused

The crisis centre and office of Esther House are situated in West Street with a safehouse in Ashburton. It is a shelter for women and children in distress, who are mainly victims of violence and rape.

The shelter has been running for nine years and has helped more than 2 000 women and their children.

“The women have nowhere else to go. Nobody wants to know about what is happening to them. They just have to bite the bullet and push on for the sake of their children. The children have to grow up in a war zone,” said project leader June Grindley-Ferris.

The home aims to teach these women skills that will enable them to find employment and to help them regain their self-esteem.

“These women often go back [home] because they have nowhere else to go. We show them that they can get a job and bring up a family on their own. It takes a lot of courage to leave what you know and to take a step into the unknown,” said Grindley-Ferris, who is also a survivor of domestic violence.

She says that the situation is getting worse. “Every day police bring in women and children.”

The home, however, is struggling with finances. With 60% of its income coming from the Department of Social Development, the recent strike affected the home badly and it was difficult to provide food for the women and children who are residing there, and it was close to closing down.

Grindley-Ferris believes that the escalating­ violence against women goes hand-in-hand   with     the    economic situation. “As soon as finances become­ tight, women are targeted­.”

• Esther House can be contacted at 033 345 5843 or 072 713 1285.


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