Interlinked strategies to tackle gender inequality in South Africa

Gender equality and women’s empowerment are key priorities in the Australian Government’s aid program, and this commitment is demonstrated by the support provided to South African NGO, Sonke Gender Justice.

Sonke Gender Justice

Sonke’s most recent Annual Report outlines the challenges to achieving gender equality and eliminating gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa:

"South Africa has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world and the highest number of new HIV infections worldwide. On average, three women are killed daily by an intimate partner in South Africa... both violence and HIV incidence are exacerbated by gender norms that equate manhood with dominance over women. Violence perpetrated by men is entrenched by a slow and ineffectual justice system, as well as patriarchal social norms." (Sonke, 2015)

Sonke works in 12 countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa to strengthen government, civil society and citizen capacity to promote gender equality, prevent domestic and sexual violence, and reduce the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS. Sonke implements a broad range of interlinked strategies to promote gender equality including partnering with government on policy development; advocacy, activism and community mobilisation; capacity building and training with partner organisations; community education; and research, monitoring and evaluation.

Since 2015, the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program has deployed three Australian volunteers to support the organisation’s work in research and advocacy, gender, religion, LGBTI, culture and media.

Australian volunteer Ruth Lund brings her experience working with Pacific law and justice agencies to improve responses to GBV to her current volunteer gender and culture specialist role at Sonke. She is working with the We Will Speak Out South Africa Coalition (WWSOSA) to develop training for faith leaders to drive change in attitudes towards gender and GBV within their communities.

“This is an exciting project as religious leaders are very influential in communities and well placed to drive change if they have the confidence and the tools to support them,” Ruth says.

Ruth is also contributing to a sport and experience-based learning program for 14 and 15 year-old boys to develop their skills to interact positively with girls and women. The program will run alongside a girls’ empowerment program for the same age group.

Like Ruth, Donna Evans is an Australian volunteer involved in a range of projects supporting Sonke’s approach of implementing interlinked strategies to achieve social change. Two of the projects that Donna is working on - the Civilian Oversight of Policing Project and the Gender-Based Violence Case Study Report - are centred on evidence-based case studies that generate awareness and inform program development and delivery.

Donna explains:

“Through the Case Study Report process, we’ve been able to enhance Sonke’s and other organisations’ capacity to respond to human rights abuses, working from an evidence base and with an understanding of relevant structures and processes.” 

International volunteering always provides an opportunity for mutual learning and that has certainly been the case for Donna. Sonke staff shared their experience and understanding of the sex worker industry with Donna, enabling her to undertake research and advocacy in a sector she had not worked with previously.

“Not having worked with the sex work sector previously, it was important for me to learn from my colleagues about the field, and to understand the strategic, advocacy and outreach approaches.  Particularly working with these vulnerable and disadvantaged clients, it is essential to forge strong relationships of trust, approach all cases with empathy and demonstrate willingness to partner and share resources and skills with others,” Donna says.

In January 2017, the Australian Government recognised Sonke’s achievements and the importance of the organisation’s ongoing work, announcing a significant grant from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Gender Equality Fund. The Minister for International Development and the Pacific, the Honourable Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, and the Australian High Commissioner, His Excellency Adam McCarthy, visited the Sonke offices in Johannesburg to meet the staff and congratulate the organisation on receiving the AUD$500,000 grant.

Sonke’s Director of Programmes Ms Angelica Pino explained that the grant would support Sonke to deliver three interlinked social change strategies across South Africa and Tanzania to achieve gender equality.  The strategies that will be implemented are grassroots education and action programs; advocacy on the implementation; monitoring and evaluation of the South African National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence; and hosting a conference on violence prevention targeting key policy and decision makers.

While the grant enables Sonke to implement new strategies and expand existing programs across South Africa and into Tanzania, the AVID program will continue to deploy Australian volunteers to South Africa to work with local counterparts to address gender inequality and gender-based violence.

By early 2018, Donna had created a report that summarised the rights and needs of many vulnerable sex workers from across the Gauteng and Mpmulanaga provinces, located in the northern and eastern parts of South Africa.

"The final report is 64 pages and contains research from 120 sex workers from the Gauteng and Mpmulanaga provinces. I'm trying to frame it as Participatory Action Research which is ongoing and flexible enough to respond to opportunities as they arise,” says Donna.
“I’ve been the sole researcher for this report, I initiated the project and did the fieldwork across the two provinces, working with our sex work sector health and advocacy partners. We partnered with a researcher from the African Centre for Migration Studies to co-write the report. We now also have a formal partnership with SWEAT—the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce—for the publication and launch of the research. They've also agreed to permanently house our Positive Policing Partnership group and we've identified a funding source to drive that work once embedded into their management structure, including capacity building support to mentor the sex work sector in policy and government interactions,” she adds. 

While Ruth and Donna have already accomplished a great deal on assignment, they are both hoping to achieve more before they conclude.

“I am looking forward to working alongside some of the younger staff members and mentoring them to realise their leadership skills so they can realise their own dreams to assist in building gender equality and eradicating gender violence,” says Ruth.

Donna hopes to “help amplify the voices of people who have traditionally been excluded from society and often find it difficult to engage with mainstream services,” she concludes.

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Ruth and Donna's volunteering assignments are part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, an Australian Government initiative. 

Caption:  Sonke Gender Justice staff at the launch of the Safe Ride Campaign, an initiative between Sonke and the South African National Taxi Council. (L – R Mpho Mabhena, Thomas Kingiela Khonde, Tebogo Ngoma, Abu Baker Sebeela and Australian volunteer Ruth Lund). Photo supplied by Sonke.