Twenty-eight gender-based violence (GBV) survivors are learning a range of sustainable, permaculture farming skills in Winterveld in the North West Province. The initiative is being run by People Opposing Women Abuse (Powa) and funded by the French Embassy’s Civil Society Development Fund. Beneficiaries of the programme are from the village of Ga-Kekana and its surrounding communities in Winterveld, not far from Pretoria.
Through the programme, partner organisation Food & Trees for Africa is teaching them to use permaculture methods to plant organic food including spinach, pumpkin, cabbage, beetroot, lettuce and herbs.
Jeanette Sera, Powa’s acting executive director, says the project is providing women with vegetables to share with their families, so improving their food security and nutrition. “It is also growing their confidence, self-esteem and sense of self-sufficiency,” she adds. “We plan to develop a workshop where we teach them how to start a business to help them turn their food gardening skills into an activity that helps them generate a sustainable income.”
By being empowered to earn some money to support themselves and their children, they are at less risk of returning to the men who abused them or getting into other abusive relationships, because they are economically independent.
“Powa’s work with GBV survivors in Winterveld essentially centres on the issue of agency to break the cycle of violence – through economic empowerment, but also restoring the survivors’ self-confidence,” says Noelle Garcin, the attaché for development cooperation and the gender equality officer for the French Embassy in South Africa, Lesotho and Malawi.
“The communal vegetable garden is a safe and therapeutic space for survivors to deal with their experience of abuse. Without even realising it, they are growing not only skills and livelihood opportunities, but also inner strength, self-respect and pride in what they are capable of achieving, individually and as a group. It is also providing an opportunity to learn and support each other.”
Beneficiaries of the programme are learning to grow vegetables on a plot of land with water tanks at St John the Baptist Catholic Clinic and Old Age Home in Winterveld. The clinic’s food gardening programme was closed for some time due to lack of funding and it’s wonderful that gardening activities have now been revived.
Some of its nutritious and delicious produce is being given to the nearby orphanage and old age home. There are women who’ve harnessed the skills they’ve gained and are now cultivating food gardens at home.
In addition to learning agricultural skills, project participants are also getting the opportunity to engage in sessions on various aspects of GBV including legal and practical options to address abusive relationships. Powa social workers are providing counselling to those who need it.
Funding from the French Embassy is paying for Food & Trees for Africa to carry out the training as well as refreshments and transport money for the women to travel to the project.
“Most of the women are unemployed and for many of them, the refreshments provided are the only meal they have all day,” says Sera. “There are some women who choose to walk to the garden at St John the Baptist Catholic Clinic and Old Age Home, so they can save their transport money to buy food for their families. One is using the money to pay for extra lessons for her daughter who is in matric.”
Through the Civil Society Development Fund, the French Embassy is supporting eight other feminist organisations in South Africa and Lesotho to roll out GBV prevention interventions and economic empowerment programmes for rural women. These interventions assist women, particularly GBV survivors, to break the cycle of abuse and secure sustainable and climate-friendly livelihoods.
In addition to the organic food gardening programme in Winterveld, the French Embassy has supported Powa with training in monitoring and evaluation, project management, governance and financial planning and budget capacity building for Powa managers, in an effort to help strengthen the organisation.
Thandiwe McCloy is the communications manager for People Opposing Women Abuse.