Women’s day in Taung, North West province

This Women’s Month, August 2011, Sonke collaborated with various partners nationwide to celebrate the women in our lives and communities. Thami Nkosi, a One Man Can trainer on our community radio project, was invited to speak at a Women’s Day event hosted by our partner radio station Vaaltar FM in Taung, North West province.

The event served to salute the many women of the radio station and community – most prominently, the station’s female founding members and its presenters. Leaders from the area, including the ward councilor and a municipal representative from the department of social services, joined in the festivities, showing an encouraging commitment to gender issues and community engagement from the local government.

The 300 attendees enjoyed a warm and sunny family day filled with entertainment from different local cultural groups who performed renditions of traditional and urban Setswana music. The event was covered live via an outside broadcast by Vaaltar FM. Food and drinks were donated by different local businesses, the department of social services as well as White Star. Hosted in a tent on the station’s outdoor premises, the day buzzed with a close family vibe.

A politically charged town and its challenges

Taung is a highly politically charged and vibrant rural area in the far east of North West province, where political affiliation and power play a large role in people’s access to resources. The area has a high unemployment rate particularly amongst young people.

The agricultural sector provides the largest area of employment in Taung, and the industry is heavily controlled not only by men, but by men with particular political affiliation. As a result, fairly few women venture into the sector as it continues to sideline them.

The tough issues of the day were addressed head-on, and centered on the need for women to mobilize and take collaborative action to improve their economic situation and to lobby the local government for effective service provision and provide employment opportunities.

Women gotta do it for themselves

These issues were first tackled by a woman who related her personal story of how she, after someone had raped her some years ago, founded and now runs an NGO that assists rape survivors.

She used her story to illustrate the opportunities for women’s empowerment within the social development sector, encouraging women to mobilize, formulate and establish action-orientated groupings to advocate for access to opportunities and employment for women within the local government and private sector.

Women in areas like Taung have often not had extensive experience or training in mobilizing themselves in large groups, so approaching government has been an activity done exclusively by small groups that overlook the great needs of the wider population of women in the area. Many women suffer poverty, discrimination and gender inequalities, and work in isolation, having no recourse to a movement set to improve their living, working and social conditions. This is especially true in the agricultural sector, in which women often work for far less pay, are overlooked for employment and have less stable working conditions and contracts than men who do the same work. Agriculture is a staple form of employment in rural areas like Taung, so a women’s coalition formed for the purpose of seeking gender justice in the sector could have huge benefits for so many women and families in the area.

The audience responded very positively to discussion of mobilization, and it seems as though fresh energy will be employed to organize the community to advocate for women’s equality and engage the municipality to achieve this.

A tangle of socio-economic problems – and some solutions

Taung, like so many rural parts of Southern Africa, struggles under the weight of high teenage pregnancies, substance abuse, unemployment and high rates of sexual and domestic violence. The complexity of the situation is that all these problems are so interrelated that efforts must be directed at all of them to create and sustain change. Thami from Sonke mulled over some of these problems with the community, focusing on the plight of young people, pointing out the dangerous links between the problems of the community, and highlighting solutions.

Teenage pregnancy, for example, is fueled by gender inequalities that lead to a girl’s lack of negotiating power in sex and the resulting lack of control over whether a condom is used or not, which of course in turn fuels the spread of HIV. Alcohol and other substance abuse – by both male and female sexual partners – further corrodes the likelihood of safe sex, and substance abuse itself is furthered by emotional and economic depression, both of which can be exacerbated by the immense task of being a young parent. A full circle.

But Sonke, and many other organizations and players both in Taung and around the country, are working to provide solutions and help communities find their own remedies to problems like this. Thami introduced the Vaaltar FM community to MenCare, a global fatherhood campaign joined by Sonke in South Africa. The campaign showcases the positive role fathers can play in their children’s lives and highlights the benefits of being an involved and caring father.

Gender norms across the globe stress the importance of men being able to provide financially for their families. Sadly, in Taung, this role is one that many young fathers cannot play, being unemployed or just not having enough to go around. Because this expectation is so entrenched in perceptions of gender, young men often cut themselves off from their children and their children’s mother, feeling shameful and emasculated. One message of the MenCare campaign is that fathers can play a strong and positive role in their children’s lives irrespective of their ability to provide materially for their children and families.

Complementing the message geared towards to women of Taung, about mobilizing to combat the effects of gender inequality in their lives, Thami put forward the idea of using volunteerism to engage the youth, giving them both work experience and community responsibility while increasing development in their home town.

Honoring the go-getters

Prizes were given to the radio’s female workers, many of whom had stuck by the station in times of deep financial need, and whose strength and dedication had sustained the station through these tough times.

If the enthusiasm, positivity and sense of commitment is anything to go by, Taung’s women and youth will be making greater sustained change for themselves and their communities in the months and years to come.

We thank Thami for the great work he does with Vaaltar FM and the One Man Can radio shows.