Feminist Leadership

Anyone can be a leader, whether they hold the title of a leader in an organisation or not. But what does it mean to be a feminist leader?  This is a question that we at Rape Crisis have been thinking deeply about from the time the organisation was founded in 1976. We have not always made this thinking clear or visible to others, but a recent grant from the African Women’s Development Fund has allowed us to explore the topic more and to be more open about exploring the question of power in our organisation.

We all know that women’s rights are under threat in South Africa because of violence, poverty and inequality. This affects us in our homes and in our communities, but most of all in our work because we work for an organisation that:

  • Offers services to rape survivors 
  • Educates communities about the harmful norms and stereotypes that promote violence against women  
  • Advocates for change that will improve the criminal justice system for rape survivors.
Our RSJC volunteers advocating for change

Because we do this work we know that, well beyond the scope of our own endeavours, South Africa needs leadership that encourages individual women to work at understanding and shifting the oppressive power dynamics that keep harmful and oppressive systems in place. By oppressive we mean harsh, authoritarian treatment of others by powerful people, making sure that less powerful people are kept down. These dynamics appear in ourselves, in the people around us and in society.

Oppressive power dynamics are the things that make us feel that because we are women we are less than men, and that we deserve less than men when it comes to pay, holding positions of power, sharing our opinions and making decisions. As a result we accept poor wages, do not apply for powerful positions, remain silent when others give their opinions and hesitate to make certain decisions. 

We need to shift these thoughts, feelings and ideas about ourselves because they are not true. Women deserve to be paid well, to be leaders, to voice our opinions and to make decisions. 

It is harmful for us to believe that this is not so because it makes us believe that women are submissive and subservient to the needs of men. The harm that comes from this, is men’s ongoing violence against women, the fact that we are not kept safe from this, that we are often blamed for this and that our recourse to justice is filled with so many obstacles that in the end not enough rapists are punished.

That is why it is important that we not only work to bring about this shift within ourselves but also to lead in a way that brings about a change in larger and larger numbers of women so that they feel empowered to bring about change at every level of the systems that influence the way we live our ordinary everyday lives.

How do we lead in ways that empower other women? Make sure to Read our next blog on “The Roles of Feminism“.

Written by Kathleen Dey, Director of Rape Crisis Cape Town

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Ramaphosa’s SONA and the issue of gender-based violence

Cyril Ramaphosa will have to explain on Thursday how the state will give effect to majority party January 8 statement commitments in the light of a shrinking fiscus.

Gender-based violence made it into the January 8 statement of the majority party. And not just a mention – a relatively thorough and honest assessment of the state of women and girl children in South Africa, and in particular the unprecedented levels of abuse, violence and murder suffered by them. The president said “we must hang our heads in shame” at the state of gender-based violence and the patriarchal practices that give rise to it in the country.

Indeed. He also asked the men in the stadium to stand and make a commitment to end gender-based violence. Contrast this with no mention of gender-based violence at all in last year’s January 8 statement.

The harrowing stories told by survivors at the recent Summit on Gender-Based Violence seem to have persuaded the party to highlight the issue as a national crisis. The women who took to the streets for #totalshutdown can legitimately claim the summit as a success, and it is very pleasing to see a rhetorical commitment to ending the scourge.

But when the president promised that “the ANC government will continue to scale up the network of Thuthuzela Care Centres and other victim empowerment initiatives” I really started paying attention.

Thuthuzela Care Centres are one-stop facilities, aimed at preventing secondary victimisation of rape and abuse victims, improving conviction rates, and reducing the time taken to finalise cases. There are 55 Thuthuzela Care Centres across the country.

The care centres are proving an antidote to the general level of non-reporting of sexual offences. Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust compared the patterns of reporting at three local Thuthuzela Care Centres that it recorded in Cape Town.

  • In 2014 there were 2,628 cases.
  • In 2015 there were 3,153 cases.
  • In 2016 there were 3,210 cases.
  • In 2017 there were 3,425 cases.

These increases match a decrease in reporting to local police stations. It makes sense – at most care centres counsellors inform the survivor about the complex processes involved in reporting rape: a nurse will counsel the survivor about potential health risks, including potential HIV infection, and prepare them for the forensic examination, which is conducted by a doctor specially trained to collect forensic evidence for the crimes of rape and sexual assault. After this examination, the first responder gives the survivor a care pack containing toiletries so that she can shower, change into clean underwear and brush her teeth.

A police detective takes a statement immediately or escorts the survivor to their home and makes an arrangement to take the statement the next day.

In some care centres, they work with or near a sexual offences court, which provides specialist infrastructure, personnel and services to survivors.

Donors have funded the care centres for some time. This funding will end on the 31st March 2019.

In recent research produced for the AIDS Foundation of South Africa and the Networking HIV & AIDS Community of Southern Africa, they highlight the ending of the Global Fund grant funding for the care centres. “The extensive funding provided the Global Fund to almost all care centres across the country raises concern around the care centres ability to effectively implement the provision of psychosocial services without support from other donors.”

All Thuthuzela Care Centre stakeholders interviewed thought that the ending of this tranche Global Fund grant funding on 31 March 2019 would have dire consequences for the services currently being offered. The withdrawal of Global Fund grant funding at the care centres may result in the loss of a number of NGO services.

So where will the funds come from to sustain the care centres? The president will have to explain how the state will give effect to majority party commitments, in the light of a shrinking fiscus.

Alison Tilley is the head of advocacy and special projects at the Open Democracy Advice Centre.