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My Community: Mothutlong Network

From the Inside In: The resiliency of South African Women

My community is one filled with women who are wondrous. They are talented, strong, and inspiring. They carry the history of South Africa’s many struggles in their heads and hearts. They carry hope in their spirits, and they carry the future of our community in their bellies. These women are individuals: unique and magical in their own ways. These women who bring so much light and power to the community are also the same women who comprise one of the most shameful statistics on our planet.

Females in South Africa make up a staggering proportion of the 35% of all women globally who have been victims of gender-based violence (GBV). The scourge of GBV is still prevalent in Western countries that have made stronger advancements in gender equality. It should come as no surprise that in communities like mine, where dismantling the ideology of patriarchy remains very difficult, ending GBV faces much more entrenched obstacles. In fact, South Africa has the highest rate of rape in the world, with at least 25% of surveyed men openly admitting to committing a rape offence.

Because of the centuries-long system of inequity in South Africa, our girls are taught and somewhat brainwashed from an early age to be subservient to men and believe that men are inherently better than women. Many of these girls and women are illiterate and do not understand the law, especially where it pertains to their well-being and rights. Too often, cases of abuse are not reported. The sad part is that, during instances of domestic violence, they are not even aware that they are being abused. They assume that they are being disciplined out of love.

When cases are reported, there are no arrests and cases are not solved. When women report rape or other sexual violence cases, their cases are withdrawn due to poor handling of forensic evidence by the police. Our government medical facilities are poorly managed and medical services remain a luxury within our communities. Many women struggle to receive medical attention resulting in permanent disability and permanent mental health problems. Women do not get justice.

But for all the vulnerable young girls and women who fall victim to GBV, there are brave women who are committed to breaking the cycle. They help provide guidance, shelter, access to treatment and hope for a life beyond their trauma. And it doesn’t stop there.

These women—our women—confront the patriarchal system head on; they speak directly to men and boys in the community to carefully deconstruct the ideologies that prevent them from seeing a woman’s worth and a woman’s equality. They reach boys before they can get caught up in a system of violence perpetration in a way that shows them the detrimental effects GBV has on the future and vitality of the entire community.

I am one of these women. My name is Lebogang Bogopane and as a survivour, I have seen what happens when our community fails us. But when I created the Mothutlong Network, I have seen what happens when you work with a community to collectively create a path forward. The women who are the lifeblood of Mothotlung Network have successfully chipped away at the patriarchy that allowed us to change the minds of many men and young boys in our community. In fact, some of these men contribute to the backbone of our organisation, going to the areas where our women can’t reach, to have the conversations with men in ways we cannot yet have.

Since our inception in 2003, Mothutlong Network has educated thousands of women and girls on their rights. We provide psycho-social and legal support where needed. We have also rescued many young girls who were abducted or forced into child marriages. The reason we have been able to find and free these girls is due heavily to the community network we have established, where neighbours who might still be too afraid to reach out directly to the police will instead contact our network to intervene. All of this is done while going severely underfunded year after year, which stifles the growth of our reach to other communities.

My community is one that wants better for itself, even as it struggles to shed the harmful connections to its past.

From the Inside In: A Tale of Two Extremes

I think there are two opposing perceptions of how GBV is being addressed by our community, both with harmful consequences. Some donors believe that ending GBV in South African is too intractable to achieve. Based on Indiana University’s Global Philanthropy Tracker, none of the top high net-worth individuals funding in South Africa focused on GBV or domestic abuse. Only one donor focused on the rights of women and girls. Despite the severity of violence against women in the country, it doesn’t register as a priority with the philanthropists giving to South Africa.

Our government is known for drafting excellent policies and legislation that are supposed to address GBV but either don’t get implemented or are ineffective once they are applied. The data speaks to a growing problem, not a problem in the process of being solved, even if that doesn’t paint the full picture.

In 2020, there were 66,196 reported incidents of rape per 100,000 people. To further put that into perspective, the second highest rate in the world was 1,865 incidents per 100,000 people. However, our community has seen significant gains in our efforts to combat GBV, and it has been driven by the community. The failures of our government to properly respond to GBV has cast a heavy shadow over the local efforts of community-based organisations like ours.

On the other hand, there are donors who do believe that GBV can be ended, but in timelines that are hard to understand or that contradict what virtually all data has indicated is necessary. The culture of patriarchy and violence against women and have endured for hundreds of years in South Africa and yet, we are offered short-term funding and expected to move mountains in a matter of years or—sometimes—months.

Mothutlong is grateful for any grants that help us continue our work, but short-term grants make it impossible for us to increase our impact on our community and neighbouring communities who desperately want and need our support. What’s frustrating for me is having to fill out grant applications where I’m supposed to detail our theory of change. No one’s theory of change happens overnight, or in a year.

I don’t know which of these opposing views is worse, but I know that neither helps us make the systemic shift that the women in my community are desperate to have.


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