To mark the end of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Office for Inclusivity & Change (OIC) in collaboration with the Faculty of Health Sciences coordinated donations from staff and students to produce care packs to help survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) – women, men, children and queer folk.
The OIC, which is housed in the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Transformation, Student Affairs and Social Responsiveness, provides institutional programmes for transformation, survivor counselling and support, restorative justice, and education programmes on GBV, employment equity services, disability services, and critical diversity training.
As part of the OIC’s “Behind U, Periodt! – You are not alone” campaign, the OIC encouraged UCT students and staff to donate basic toiletries to help create care packs for survivors of GBV entering rape crisis and community intervention centres.
According to OIC inclusivity culture change specialist, Undere Deglon, the campaign forms part of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, and focused on standing with those who are victims or survivors of GBV. The idea for the campaign is based on the needs of survivors post-trauma, where basic supplies like underwear, sanitary pads and toiletries can help them in some small way to regain their dignity as they begin their healing journeys.
“The campaign’s name is ‘Behind U, Periodt! – You are not alone’. With this, we are basically saying and signalling that your pain is my pain. We as UCT are behind you in this fight, and this is a fight that belongs to all of us in the world, periodt! Enough is enough,” she explained.
Taking note, taking action
South Africa’s sexual abuse and SGBV statistics are alarming; from July to September 2022, more than 13 000 women fell victim to assault, and 10 000 rape cases were opened.
Against this background, Deglon stresses that the campaign aimed to encourage people to take note and to take action. “This campaign is aimed at us standing still and asking, ‘Why are we here?’, ‘How did we get here?’ and ‘What can we do to make a change?’”
The Sparrow Society, an empowerment brand that works to provide optimal economic opportunities to restore power back to women, was identified by the OIC as an ideal partner to further this cause and provide assistance to those affected by SGBV.
Over the course of the 16 Days of Activism, which began on 25 November, the OIC collected thousands of toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste, soap, deodorant, sanitary pads and other items to create ‘Power Packs’ for survivors.
Sparrow Society social worker, Michealah Ford, notes that the packs are a crucial tool for helping women get back on their feet after incidents of GBV. “Essentially, the ‘Power Packs’ are toiletry packs that are made up for survivors of abuse,” she said.
“They will be given to rape crisis centres and community intervention centres so that they can be handed out to survivors as they come into their offices. It’s a basic medical kit and other toiletries that can just help these women on the journey to healing.”
A worthy cause
Aside from targeted campaigns like 16 Days of Activism, Sparrow Society focuses on upskilling women to help them gain access to economic opportunities, so enabling them to support themselves and provide for their families. Research has shown that women who can financially sustain themselves are less prone to abuse and exploitation.
“We exist to give as much economic opportunity to women as possible,” said Sparrow Society founder and managing director, Kate Brim-Senekal. “We do that through a range of industries, the main one being textile manufacturing.
“There is a need for women to be economically empowered so that they can get out of the situations that they’re in.”
“There are a lot of women who know how to sew, so we’re trying to translate those skills into jobs. Here at the workshop, we have a team of about 18 women and one man, and we do a lot of sewing here. We do corporate and branded gifts and projects for beauty companies, like cosmetic bags.”
They also have a network of around 100 women at any given time who are part of their Sewboss Program, which is a network of women who sew from home.
“We help set them up as a home-based CMT [cut, make, trim] manufacturer, and essentially become one of their clients to help them work through the process of creating a sewing business,” she explained.
The system is designed to impart basic entrepreneurial skills, while simultaneously helping minimise costs and risks associated with travelling to and from work. Participants are also able to better manage other demands, such as childcare.
In addition to practical skills, these projects play a key role in providing psychosocial support to the women within Sparrow Society’s network, helping them begin to see a way out of their circumstances.
Providing economic opportunities
Ford confirms that they see women staying in abusive situations because of their economic dependence on men: “There is a need for women to be economically empowered so that they can get out of the situations that they’re in. So, for us to help girls and women who are abuse survivors, we give them economic opportunities.”
For the OIC, Deglon said that focusing on education and capacity-building programmes that aims to reduce SGBV incidences at UCT, not only furthers its mission of providing an institutional response to this societal scourge, but also provides survivor support care and counselling to enable their agency post-trauma.
“The university recognises that it is anchored within the community. When the community weeps, we weep. When the community thrives, we thrive. So UCT has increasingly acknowledged the crisis of SGBV and its profound impact on the lives and well-being of survivors.”
“When the community weeps, we weep. When the community thrives, we thrive.”
OIC relations strategist, Babalwa Gusha, added that the university takes very seriously its duty to produce graduates and future leaders who are equipped to understand and help address complex challenges, including SGBV.
“We’re in the business of shaping tomorrow’s leaders. At UCT, we understand our role in moulding well-rounded individuals who are able to thrive in a diverse world that embraces and celebrates differences,” she said.
“We want to produce graduates who are diversity literate, who are culturally aware and who are able to appreciate nuances and embrace opportunities to grapple with complex topics. These graduates will be advocates and allies to the marginalised in our societies, especially women, LGBTQ individuals and children, which is why it’s important to take on this role in fighting SGBV.”
Sparrow Society is a registered non-profit and Section 18A approved Public Benefit Organisation. Both businesses and individuals can contribute to the cause in a multitude of ways.
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