Despite recent progress in women’s political leadership in South Africa, the rate of violence against women is high and rising. The impact of HIV and AIDS and poverty on women is also disproportionately heavy. Combining grassroots awareness-raising and activism with lobbying and advocacy at national and Pan-African level, Raising Her Voice is helping to change attitudes and behaviours, and hold the government to account on its commitment to domesticate and implement the African Women’s Rights Protocol.

One woman’s story: putting training into action

Khensani Mabasa is an activist with the Treatment Action Campaign and attended a Raising Her Voice training session. She realised the training‟s relevance to her life when her daughter was raped:

“I learned so many things about empowerment, the power within, and how I could address some of the things affecting me and my family… when my daughter was raped, I could use information about the Protocol to challenge some things in my daughter‟s case and make sure the case proceeded well… Due to the training I got I made sure all these things happened [the case was handled according to procedure], and the perpetrator was imprisoned for life.
Raising Her Voice is a global campaign spearheaded by Oxfam, being implemented in South AFrica by POWA.. The project aims to strengthen national legislation relating to women‟s rights, ensure adequate budgeting, and bring about the domestication and effective implementation of the African Women’s Rights Protocol. This is being achieved by:

  • Building alliances with poor women activists to ensure that their voices are brought into the mainstream discourse.
  • National lobbying and advocacy work to hold Parliament and government to account in ensuring domestication and implementation of the Protocol.
  • Mobilising and strengthening civil society, especially women‟s organisations and networks, to lobby and advocate for their rights.

What we’ve achieved so far

Empowering poor women activists

Thirty women activists, each of them members of strategic HIV and AIDS, gender-based violence (GBV) and anti-poverty organisations, and active in their communities, were brought together for intensive training. Sessions focused on strengthening understanding and critical analysis of the linkages between HIV, GBV and poverty. The women – including POWA project staff – underwent deeply transformative journeys, and have gained personal strength, understanding, skills and support structures to better represent their community, and better integrate different approaches into the work of their organisations.

Women‟s lived experiences reflected and their voices amplified

Women activists contributed their personal experiences to develop POWA‟s „Conceptual Framework‟ to highlight the multiple oppressions they face. This demonstrated the reality of women‟s lives; gave women ownership of the project and helped them make sense of their experiences; and it put women in contact with organisations which can help them claim their rights. Within the Conceptual Framework, advocacy materials and policy reports, the voices of women on the margins have been prioritised and amplified.

A shift in attitudes and behavior

As a result of capacity- and confidence-building work with women and local groups, there is evidence of changing attitudes and behaviour. This includes the first white woman using a refuge for victims of violence against women. In another case, a man summoned the police when confronted by a local activist after he had beaten his wife. He assumed that the police would arrest the activist; in fact, they arrested him. Local groups started a campaign, „One Man Can‟, to raise young men’s awareness of violence against women.

A positive relationship with government

For the most part, POWA’s criticism of the State’s shortcomings and its efforts to hold government to account, have been well received. POWA is viewed as an important and credible partner, as shown by the government‟s willingness to consult it. For example, POWA worked with other community organisations to develop a shadow report on the government‟s implementation of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women). This report highlighted the gaps between policy and practice in South Africa, and was noted by the CEDAW committee. The government later asked POWA for support to address the gaps identified.

High-profile campaigning

During the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women‟, POWA engaged in public events and media work to raise the profile of violence against women. POWA is one of the few organisations that contests the government’s use of this event as a PR platform, and uses the period to highlight the State’s accountability, commitments and obligations to end violence against women

Zaphamban’ izindlela! the latest in the “Crossroads” series hit the airwaves for Women’s Month in South Africa. CMFD produced the isiZulu, South African adaptation for People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), supported by Oxfam GB. Previously produced in English, Swahili, French and Portuguese, the drama uses humour to get people thinking, and talking, about women’s rights. POWA facilitated discussion groups, tuning in to community radio stations such as Alex FM, Kasie FM, Eldoz FM and Ndofaya FM, as well as distributed copies of the drama on CD to organisations and women’s shelters. The drama proved to be an entertaining means to stimulate dialogue and analysis of women’s rights in communities, raise awareness of the AU Protocol and legal protections for women, and encourage local actions. During activities and discussion groups, facilitators took detailed notes, to assist with assessing the impact of the drama and next steps. Based on these notes, it is clear that drama can be valuable tool for social change, especially when accompanied by discussion groups and other support activities.