#StoryOfResistance — Creating safer homes for women and girls in South Africa and Eswatini: Interview with Mpiwa Mangwiro-Tsanga at Sonke Gender Justice
Sonke Gender Justice, a women-led human rights civil society organization based in South Africa, is implementing the “Safe at Home, Safe in Relationships” project in both South Africa and Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), with support from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) under the EU/UN Spotlight Initiative.* It is working with two partners in South Africa, and with the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA), another UN Trust Fund grantee organization.
We talked with Mpiwa Mangwiro-Tsanga, Policy Development and Advocacy Manager, about the project and its achievements.
How is your project working to prevent and end violence against women and girls?
As violence against women spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an urgent need to engage with and build the capacity of all community members — men and women, boys and girls — in challenging harmful ideas about manhood and masculinity, and beliefs about gender and sexuality, to better prevent violence against women. Therefore, we work with and empower civil society and community-based organizations by providing them with the necessary tools to mainstream and promote gender equality and equity within communities.
We have also organized workshops and dialogues for women and girls, to raise awareness of available services and inform them of their rights.
We have also been advocating for better implementation of laws and policies that address intimate partner violence, and facilitate survivors’ access to justice and specialist services such as psychosocial assistance.
Can you give us an example?
We worked on the case of a survivor of violence who was struggling to access justice because of the lengthy, bureaucratic system. Her perpetrator kept violating the protection order that was issued against him, with no repercussions. Through our support, she was able to access justice and her perpetrator was held accountable.
How have you mobilized communities and how has this helped?
We have engaged with diverse communities, including adolescents, people living with disabilities, and various community-based organizations and human rights organizations.
We have observed good results as the communities have embraced the gender transformative approaches through our workshops. In these workshops, we explore myths and harmful social and cultural norms perpetuating violence against women. We also improve the community’s understanding of domestic and intimate partner violence to better prevent and respond to violence..
In different project locations, communities have been able to organize their own initiatives to respond to intimate partner violence. For instance, in Eswatini, some women trained to be agents of change in their communities have gone on to raise awareness of gender-based violence among their peers, including at church, and have reported different forms of abuse to the authorities. We are very proud of this.
What lessons have you learned through this project?
We learned to evaluate the project as we went along to inform our approach, such as identifying the driving forces of intimate partner violence and obstacles that hinder women from effectively participating in our programmes.
We found that one of the main challenges was food insecurity, which was contributing to increased cases of intimate partner violence. Therefore, we adapted the project to respond to this issue. In order to end intimate partner violence, we chose to address its drivers and structural issues such as food insecurity.
We also recognize the importance of being able to work within a feminist space and to collaborate with feminist organizations in promoting gender equality and challenging social gender norms. We particularly appreciate being in a space where diversity is respected and where the voices and agency of survivors are acknowledged and respected.
- The EU/UN Spotlight Initiative was launched in 2017 as a joint effort by the EU and UN to end violence against women and strengthen women’s movements around the world, including by allocating grants — through the UN Trust Fund — to civil society organizations in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.
#StoryOfResistance is an editorial series during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence 2022 of the UN Trust Fund. The series features the important, lifeline work of women’s rights organizations in ending violence against women and girls, in the context of overlapping crises and rising pushbacks from anti-rights and anti-feminist movements.