Nhlanhla Mokwena, executive director of POWA, is a qualified social worker, with a certificate in Training and Development and a Masters in Philosophy in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa. She’s very passionate about the rights of women and girls, and respects the rights of all individuals. As a human rights activist, she also strongly believes in social justice for all.
POWA was formed in 1979 by a group of women volunteers in order to provide referral services and sheltering to women who were experiencing domestic violence. Over a period of thirty-nine years, POWA has continued to provide shelter for abused women and their children, frontline services, including counseling and legal services and support. POWA was the first organization to establish a shelter for women in 1981. POWA currently has 7 physical working sites in Gauteng that provide counseling, sheltering and legal support to women at face-to-face level. They also have national reach and presence through their telephonic counseling, advocacy, public awareness and sector strengthening work. Through funding from NACOSA, POWA started providing services for young women and women in the form of containment services for survivors of sexual violence, 24 hours and seven days a week HIV and AIDS pre and post-counseling, collecting information on STI testing, post-exposure prophylaxis treatment and referral for abortion. Furthermore, there is a social worker and community of youth workers who support the TCC’s with community outreach and sector strengthening work within the communities.
Over the years they have become an organisation that is considered to be an expert on issues of women’s rights and are consulted by the private sector, government and civil society on educational and decision-making matters pertaining to women’s safety and enjoyment of their rights. As an organisation, their aim is to ‘open spaces for us as women in all our diversity to enjoy our fundamental human rights.’
What are some of the challenges POWA faces?
Nhlanhla Mokwena: As a women’s rights organisation addressing violence against women and girls, the organisation struggles for funding, as is the case with many NGO’s.
Women have come a long way since the first National Women’s Day in 1994. What do you feel has been the most significant achievement?
NM: South Africa has a progressive constitution that is respected globally, and the country has national legislation enacted to curb violence against women and girls, but the problem is a lack of implementation.
Which women have had the biggest impact on your life? How and why?
NM: My late grandmother and mother. From a very young age they always built my confidence and taught me that a girl has to get educated and work hard for herself. They did not raise me with gender stereotypes of my role as a girl or woman. I am thankful to them both for the values they have instilled and I am passing their teachings onto my daughter.
Women play so many different roles in society to great success. What is your role in society, be it at home, work or otherwise?
NM: I am a women first and that means I am a feminist who believes in equal rights for women and men; a mother who nurtures my daughter and other loved ones and also play a teachers role to them. I am an activist as well.
What’s the most important misconception about women that still needs to change?
NM: Women mean yes when they say no. Women should be submissive then the violence will end. Women being blamed for the abuse they experience.
What makes you feel powerful?
NM: I believe in myself. I love myself, flaws and all. I don’t associate with negative people but with people who build me. My humility makes me powerful.
What makes you feel beautiful?
NM: Beautiful clothes, shoes and a healthy mind and body.
Do you believe in style as a form of personal everyday activism? How do you practice this?
NM: I always wear clothes that make me comfortable to present my self for every occasion, work, business and social occasion.
Tell us about a moment in your life when you’ve felt really proud to be a woman.
NM: Everyday when I have conversations with my daughter. She is turning out to be a confident young women, who is intelligent, works hard and very humble. She is beautiful too.
If you could live the life of any famous fictional female character, who would it be and why?
NM: Catwoman, because she saves the world and I am passionate about living in a good world. She is intelligent, strong, beautiful and sexy.
Which personal achievement are you most proud of?
I completed my masters in one year at 45 and have raised a phenomenal young woman as a single mother.
In celebration of Women’s Month, join Poetry and POWA in the fight against violence and abuse against women and girls. You will have the option to donate R10 to POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse) with your Poetry purchases made in August, and we will match every donation made to this worthy cause. Read more about it here.