Our co-founder Reneé Thompson got the opportunity to speak at a Women’s Day event hosted by Child Welfare SA Grabouw on Wednesday 8th August. This was a spur-of-the-moment event that left us feeling inspired and blessed, especially after seeing the good work done by the organisation to protect Grabouw’s children, women and other at-risk community members.
Reneé spoke on the topic “What is empowerment, and what does it mean to be a liberated woman?” It was a call to action for more women to speak up, step up and step into their power.
About Child Welfare SA Grabouw
The goal of Child Welfare SA Grabouw is to protect and promote the safety and wellbeing of children, the youth, families, disabled people and the elderly in the Grabouw community. They help to support these vulnerable people by providing the following:
- Child protection services, including a safe house for children traumatised by abuse and neglect.
- Early childhood development services, including multiple daycare and educare centers.
- Youth development programmes, from sports and leadership to life skills and counselling.
- Services and programmes for disabled people, such as a protective workshop offering work skills and life skills training.
- Residential care services for the elderly; Huis Silwerjare is a residential aged care home in Grabouw, committed to providing quality medical and personal care.
WHAT IS EMPOWERMENT, AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A LIBERATED WOMAN?
When I was approached to come and speak to you about what it means to be empowered and liberated, I reflected over my own journey, and I have to honest with you… I think I am a constant work in progress on my way to true liberation.
Empowerment for me simply means to become aware of one’s rights and privileges, and to fully exercise those rights!
BUT WHO GIVES US THIS POWER?
Reflecting on the events of this month and what is happening on a daily basis, one can only say women are still being oppressed, abused, harassed, and our rights violated, and this is sadly becoming our new normal.
We read about women who, in 2018, are still forced to give sexual favours to get a job or promotion. Not only do we read about it, but we personally know of this happening at our places of work, in our communities.
And the biggest problem is that we as women then also judge and shame those women, when in fact we should be naming and shaming those men who are exploiting and preying on the vulnerability of women. So the change starts with us, here, where we work, in our communities and in our churches. Because this is sadly where these things are happening.
As I visit more small towns and spend more time with women, listening to their stories, having workshops about empowerment, trauma and abuse – the message from women is clear. They are gatvol, WE are gatvol… we are angry and we are hurt. We are tired of having meaningless events and dialogues, with no action or lasting impact.
There is a saying that “angry women will change the world”; more and more I am beginning to believe this.
And like most change, this will also not come about without struggles, sacrifices, protests and conflict. The emancipation and liberation of women is still viewed with suspicion from within the ranks of women themselves. It is still with us today.
What we need now is for those women who have made it, to send the lift back down, so that more and more of us can have access to opportunities.
The key to change is access to economic opportunities. Economic freedom will only be realised with women finding employment and creating opportunities, for ourselves and for one another, despite society’s double standards.
But all this will still not be enough if we don’t have political empowerment. One cannot say that South Africa has seen gender equality and rights of women championed in the fullest sense. No, not at all. But I made a conscious decision to steer clear of discussing politics here today.
Some will argue that women’s emancipation and liberation is already a reality. I personally don’t feel that we are there yet. How can we be, when the majority of women are still unemployed and have to fight for access to any opportunity?
How can we be, when women have to sit in organisations that discriminate against them and get away with it, by merely saying “sorry” only once, forced to do so only after their abuse has already left deep scars, which take years to heal?
How can we be, when a CEO in 2018 makes comments about women actually being to blame themselves for getting lower salaries than their male counterparts, and that we choose to have families and our choice means our professional careers takes a back seat?
I have personally seen how a pregnant woman was moved out of her position when she seemingly became a liability, because a child means not being able to work 24/7. This is not legal, yet as women we are failed by our unions and our HR departments, and when these cases are taken to the Gender Commission nothing happens. How can it be that these bodies that are suppose to protect women, choose instead to protect men in senior positions? Surely this can’t be right, and this can’t be allowed to continue.
The mindset of our communities also has to change. To ensure that this happens, laws to protect and defend the rights of women need to be upheld, especially in the workplace and also in our own homes. Because this is where we are being exploited and abused, not by strangers, but by those we know and work with.
In the past few months and weeks, many women and children have been killed, many have been raped and some have taken their own lives as a result. During Women’s Month, gender-based violence is highlighted, but abusers don’t take a holiday during Women’s Month, and the same applies to the the 16 Days of Activism.
The most brutal and violent crimes against women make headlines, but the daily emotional and physical abuse endured by so many don’t make the news and if it does, it blows over after the initial public outcry.
Dit is asof ons gewoond raak aan hierdie tipe nuus, net nog ’n vrou of kind wat verkrag is. Because there are so many, we only know about the reported causes, what about the rest.
During the marches that took place on 1 August, how many women actually participated, whether it was in their own town or the big marches? Imagine what would happen if all women said “Tot hier toe en nie verder nie”. If the women of Grabouw said NO today, if we said: “We have had enough and we are shutting Grabouw down… we are shutting Worcester down, we are marching in solidarity with our sisters and mothers”, no work would get done.
We have the power to bring an entire country to a standstill, we have the numbers to really shut everything down, yet we are not using it. We don’t realise how much power we actually have. For me, realising the power you have and the change you can bring about, means we will be on the right track.
Real and meaningful change for the empowerment and true liberation of women has to begin with you and me here, today, irrespective of the size of the dorp – it is your duty as mothers.
When I received the invitation to come here today, even at such short notice, I had to come. When asked about any payment, I was actually shocked. How can I, as a woman, request payment to come and speak to other women about a topic I feel so passionate about? I probably need to be paid to stop talking about it!
Domestic violence and gender discrimination are part of our daily lives. As many of you may know, I had my own very painful discrimination experience and that has made me even more determined to start speaking up. And with each workshop my NGO facilitates, as more women share their painful and heartbreaking experiences, the more I feel compelled to speak up. Because my full story has not been told yet.
We don’t need the media to tell our stories; we can do it ourselves, using our own words and speaking in our own languages. Social media is giving us that platform. Already many stories have been brought to light through intense campaigning on social media, like with the #MeToo campaign. Social media is powerful tool to promote a cause and share a story.
In closing, I urge all women present here today to commit that together we will protect the human rights of ALL women under ALL circumstances, without judgement.
The change has to take place here first, in Grabouw, Worcester, Laingsburg, Matjiesfontein, Touwsrivier… the women in our small rural towns needs to start supporting each other, not only in times of hardship but also when one of us makes it, we need to open up access for the rest to follow. Let’s continue to give back to the communities we come from.
I hope that my input here today will lead to my NGO, Suster4Life, being invited here again to have a workshop. Let this Women’s Day event be the beginning of a relationship with us.
I also hope that my words here today will leave you with something to think about. I trust you will enjoy the rest of your Women’s Day celebration, and thank you again for inviting me.