The view of Table Mountain from Wendy Ackerman’s office at Pick ‘n Pay’s headquarters in Cape Town is spectacular.
To those who know Wendy it’s no surprise that she still has an office job way beyond her retirement age. But at 80 there is no stopping Wendy from being super productive. Or from speaking her mind.
“Donald Trump is an old-fashioned chauvinist pig,” she says of the newly elected American president. “My darling husband was watching the election neurotically, 24/7 and when I see Trump on our TV screen I walk out of the room. I went upstairs and watched Harry Potter so that I wouldn’t have to watch him.”
Wendy’s husband is Raymond Ackerman, well-loved chairman of Pick ‘n Pay until he stepped down in 2010. She joined him at Pick ‘n Pay when the couple’s four children were still very young and she’s stayed active in the company over the past four decades.
Much of her time is now spent supporting causes she feels passionate about, such as women’s rights. But she makes it clear she abhors all forms of discrimination. “My stand in life has always been against discrimination, whether it is the apartheid years against race or discrimination against women or religion, I have opposed it.”
The idea for the 1000Women’s Trust was born out of a meeting between Wendy and women’s rights activist Tina Thiart in 2003. Tina has been a massive driving force in the NPO sector over the past 25 years – in South Africa and abroad. As a director of HGG NPO Sustainability Solutions she works with independent funds and NPO’s to achieve sustainability.
The first 1000Women was held in 2004 in Cape Town and since then the 1000Women initiative has become so successful that two more events were added to the calendar – one in Johannesburg and one in Durban.
The two women laugh about how Tina initially had to nag Wendy for a meeting all those years ago. Soon afterwards they became friend and together they have raised some serious funds to support women’s initiatives – more than R6 million in under a decade.
In her lifetime Wendy has seen women breaking through many barriers, but she is very concerned about how violence against women doesn’t seem to subside.
“So much of the abuse of women is because women are standing up to men. They’re not being passive any longer. Women have found a voice and they’re trying to use it, but sometimes they pay a terrible price for it.”
It is for this reason that the focus of the 1000Women events have remained on creating awareness about domestic violence, Tina adds. “It is worrying that there is a decrease in the number of women who report domestic abuse.
The police is still too slow to respond and our legal is system is failing too many vulnerable women.” Tina mentions a case of a man that’s been reported to the police for abusing several women over a long period of time, but the wheels of justice turn so slowly that by the time the third women laid charges, he hadn’t yet appeared in court for the first charges of battering.
But it’s dangerous to assume that only impoverished women are victims, Wendy warns. She describes how she’s witnessed the wives of an architect and a gynecologists suffer horrendous abuse and battering. “When I saw the bruises on my friend’s body, I couldn’t believe it.
How is it possible that a gynecologist could hurt a women like this? She only left him when she landed up concussed in the hospital. I wasn’t able to put my mind around an educated man could beat up his wife like that.”
Women who dare to speak out about maltreatment often risk even more abuse, Tina adds. “For this year 1000Women event in Cape Town we made a wonderful video of women speaking out about domestic abuse. Three of the women had severe backlashes from their community and family.
They were covering up for the perpetrator. How do you find your voice and dignity if you’re living in a space like that?”
Sometimes abuse is insidious but no less harmful, Wendy explains.
“I spoke to a women recently who is married to a lawyer and I complimented her on the pretty dress she was wearing. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘my husband bought it. He buys all my clothes, he says I have no taste.’ I was speechless. And she worships the ground he walks on!”
Part of the problem is that many men find justification for denigrating women in religion. That’s why alternative narratives need to come into play, Wendy insists. “I had a friend who was in a very abusive relationship and I gave her a book about the ways women are conditioned not to take responsibility for their lives, ‘The Cinderella Complex’.
She read it and walked out of the relationship. I felt responsible, but in a good way.”
It is crucial for women to support each other and not join the chorus of victim-blaming, says Tina. The huge number of women who supported Donald Trump shows that we’re not taking sexism seriously.
“A lot of this has to do with self-loathing, but also with women who think a man groping you is a compliment in some twisted way. Such toxic ideas need to be refuted over and over again. Thinking men’s role is to protect women have cost women dearly. We should empower women to protect themselves.”
And a big part of empowerment involves economic upliftment, both women believe passionately. Wendy’s notice board is a huge collage of graduation photos of women she’s helped to go to university.
She’s very excited about one of the projects that will benefit from the 1000Women’s Trust this year, a safe house for young victims of abuse and trafficking in the Karoo town Murraysburg, an initiative of Anex (Activists networking against the exploitation of children).
By using their vast networks, Wendy and Tina plan to create awareness about child trafficking along the N1 route to Cape Town during the 16 Days of Activism campaign starting on 25 November.
Seeing these two women discuss the details of the campaign with such dedication fills one with a sense of hope – as well as gratitude that Wendy hasn’t followed through on her threat to jump off Table Mountain if Donald Trump were to beat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race!
* The 1000Women1Voice event in Johannesburg on 24 November will be held at ULP House in Midrand from 10:00 to 13:00. Phone Melanie Daniels for more information: 021-782 8816 or 083 6550533 or send a mail to email@example.com