Getting to know ourselves
“I would describe Women’s Platform as a space where women learn about who they are and try to grow from there. I would say it is a family, a home. I would also explain it as a journey.”
Shingi West is the Women’s Platform Personal Development (PD) Manager – “Personal Development is actually the heart of Women’s Platform. It is where the women realise who they are and what they want out of life.”
Working with both South African women and women originally from other countries, personal development courses focus on growth, empowerment and identity. “They [the women] learn about their different emotions and the importance of self-care – it’s very difficult for people to express themselves and understand how they feel or what they really want. We believe that once you understand how you feel in terms of emotions you are able to help yourself from there.”
Goals, action plans, mentorship and networking are a major focus within Women’s Platform. It is also a space where women are able to develop a sense of community and a feeling of safety – to the point that if they are suffering from sexual or gender-based violence (SGBV), this is a space where they can ask for help or develop their thoughts and plans around their next move.
Barriers to Reporting
Shingi is aware of many reasons that people would not want to report their abuse. “I think it’s the way our society is shaped, the cultural norms, fear, secondary trauma and thinking about what people will say. Then there’s also financial implications, immigration status, isolation –imagine you are in a foreign country, you already don’t know people and now you are in this relationship that’s abusive. There are a lot of implications when it comes to leaving. That’s why I always feel that people who are in abusive relationships are strong to stay in those relationships and they are also strong to leave those relationships. We cannot even begin to judge them it’s unfair.”
As a person who is migrating or has migrated, one encounters several specific spaces where SGBV can occur. Each person’s journey is different. “If it is intimate partner violence (IPV), most of the time you find that it started well before they came to South Africa and maybe worsened because of the situation when they got here. For others, it could have started when they arrived here. The sad thing from the research we had was, usually the husband comes first and their wife and sometimes children make their way alone to join him. On that journey, there can be different forms of SGBV – from their relationships with their partner, to what they’re running away from, to being taken advantage of travelling and crossing borders because they have no money to pay their way, to getting to South Africa and still being vulnerable to the same situations.”
Within Women’s Platform, educating women on their rights is very important. Once conversations are opened up, women are able to learn from each other and more spaces are created for them to ask for and receive support. “Sometimes when you realise that there is a group of women that can support you, that have gone through some of these things, that share the same language, that are from the same country, it gives you a bit more confidence to move to the next step.”
What if someone confides in you that they are facing SGBV? Shingi would not recommend forcing anyone to go to the police and report, “it’s about the person realising where they are and where they want to go. Encouraging them to join support groups, to receive counseling to better understand their situation and to understand that none of it is their fault is key. Once they are empowered, once they have enough information to make a sound decision, then they can move forward from there.” Shingi emphasises the need to build trust so that when the person is ready to ask for support or is ready to leave the relationship, they know that you are there to support them.
Once women complete the personal development courses, they can go on to the skills sector. This empowers them to become financially independent. “They can take baby steps until they reach that space of freedom.”
“I always say, all women are resilient. We go through so many different things. Resilience is shown in subtle changes – where women want to be more empowered, where they want to be leaders in their communities, where they want to stand up for things that they never used to stand up for. Because you’re a woman you have the power to grow from where you are.”