Rape Crisis is an organisation whose work is for the healing and empowerment of survivors of sexual violence. Our work is founded on feminist principles of advocacy, freedom from patriarchal violence and freedom of choice. Rape Crisis makes visible the needs as well as the experience and disempowering reception and treatment of survivors as they navigate the system in search of help and justice.
Our services are suitably placed in critical spaces which a survivor is likely to access. These spaces are the Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) where we have counsellors who are first responders and provide emotional containment; our three offices in which both crisis intervention and long-term therapy are provided to reduce post-traumatic stress and enhance post-traumatic growth; and at the courts where there are court supporters who offer psychosocial support to assist survivors with readiness for the court processes.
Over time, as a result of work pressures and responding to the burden of gender based violence, we neglected ensuring that visibility and activity levels of feminism within the organisation remained a high priority, and possibly also to our gender based violence (GBV) sector peers. Due to the enabling partnerships we have formed with organisations in the sector and with funders- who support and value the work we do, Rape Crisis became part of the African Women’s Development Fund’s (AWDF) Leadership and Governance Project.
The Leadership and Governance Project entailed a coaching process for Barbara Williams (Counselling Coordinator, Athlone Office) and I, in which we were allocated a coach – Hope Chigudu – who mentored us on personal growth and feminist leadership. The other part of the project entailed training our Board, who discussed the organisation’s status and identified areas for development. We then submitted a proposal on how we would address the identified gaps. We were able to acquire the support of AWDF’s Maanda Governance Grant to dedicate time and resources to the well-being of the organisation and reigniting our feminism.
We embarked on this journey of feminist ‘recovery’ by way of the whole organisation going on a weekend retreat to Waterval Country Lodge in Tulbagh. This served a dual purpose for us, as it was an opportunity for a break (self-care) and a space where we would begin developing our Feminist Charter. As part of the lead up to the weekend away, conversations on understanding feminism and feminism at Rape Crisis were held with all programmes and at all levels of the organisation.
In addition, a process of assessing feminism in our operations was facilitated with the use of a Feminist Tool, a questionnaire that looked into the visibility of feminism in the organisation, in the work we do for our clients and community, in the work we do in teams, in our management as well as our own individual commitment to Rape Crisis being a feminist functioning organisation. This process will conclude with the formulation of the Feminist Charter which will guide the understanding and expression of our feminism as an African organisation in the GBV sector.
This has been an enriching experience: the coaching, the interactions with members of the Rape Crisis family in preparation for our weekend away and revival of our feminism. It all culminated in a wonderful getaway in which we questioned, discussed, suggested, sang-along, danced, shared meals, posed for photos and then walked away with renewed commitment to our work and to strengthening the links between our Road to Justice, Road to Recovery and Making Change programmes.
Photos by Alexa Sedgewick