Tackling gender-based violence through citizen action in Cape Town’s townships

25/06/2014

Joanna Wheeler and Thea Shahrokh

Joanna WheelerGender-based violence is both routine and extreme across South Africa. In Cape Town, cases such as the rape and murder of nine-year-old Elihle Hlanjwa  continue to highlight the seriousness of this issue in the lives of women, men and children living in the city’s townships.

Sustained activist pressure on legislative and judicial bodies shows the challenges involved in responding to the issue, with opportunities for mitigation, redress and healing limited by an ineffectual justice system. The current inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha township has been driven by residents’ deep-rooted mistrust in law enforcement institutions, which is in part, a response to the failures of the police in addressing the issue. The violence that permeates township communities is also connected to economic insecurity and marginality of the spaces where people live. This has been acknowledged to a certainThea Shahrokh extent in municipal policy, such as the city-led Violence Prevention and Urban Upgrading scheme. However, the significance of the how violence is used to enforce discriminatory social norms such as those surrounding gender, age, race, religion and ethnicity have received less attention.

A recent pilot evaluation by the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, the University of Western Cape and the Institute of Development Studies was undertaken to learn from citizen activists taking action against gender-based violence in Khayelitsha township. The lived experience of these activists provides an example of how community responses to violence are contributing to a sense of democratic citizenship and the transformation of inequitable relations of power, attitudes and behaviours at the local level.

Citizen-led innovations in addressing urban violence demand greater attention in policy and programming. This requires seeing those living in contexts of violence as potential active citizens, who are able to claim their rights to security and demand greater accountability, as well as act directly to mitigate violence. In this evaluation an in-depth understanding of the life choices and life chances of community activists meant that we were able to understand more about what enables people to take action against violence, within their homes, communities and cities, and importantly what sustains this activism.

Activists found value in opportunities to reflect on their own lives and relationships before trying to influence others, seeing their own life journeys and personal transformations as important catalysts of change. Activist networks were essential for engaging people across all levels of society, helping to reshape and rethink societal norms around violence. Police responsiveness and accountability on issues of gender-based violence within intimate, community and institutional spaces were seen as crucial for rebuilding trusting relationships with citizens and in catalysing wider citizen action.

‘If there was a wife calling the police saying that there is a husband beating me up then they will take their own time to come because they know the husband. Sometimes they say ‘we don’t interfere with marriage, so you just need to go to the centres, or to those organisations that deal with marriages or abusive relationships’. But now we are working with them, because we introduced them and we are wanting them to become a part of the community committee.’ (Woman, Community Activist, Khayelitsha).

Activism against violence does not exist in a vacuum. Citizen action against violence that is informed by the local context, its constraints and its possibilities will be more sustainable and will have greater impact when combined with interventions that address wider systemic issues that drive poverty and inequality. Furthermore, it is important that policies addressing violence prevention and mitigation link between local, provincial and national levels. Learning needs to take place between each level to ensure that policies are responsive to, and enabling for the grass roots activists. The National Strategic Plan to End Gender Based Violence which is currently in development provides a platform for this kind of transformative policymaking. In order to realise this vision it will be critical that the policymaking process learns from community action, and enables citizens of South Africa to have a stake in the response.

Related research on citizen action and community-led innovations against gender-based violence in South Africa

The SLF Project ‘SafeShebeens’, which seeks to reduce the risks of violence to women in public drinking venues, was recently short-listed for the OpenIDEO Amplify Challenge.

Case study research with SLF and Sonke Gender Justice has been initiated to explore how collective action contributes to addressing the discriminatory social norms that perpetuate sexual and gender-based violence, and the role of men and boys in enabling transformative change.

Thea Shahrokh is a Research Officer at the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS. Joanna Wheeler is a Senior Research Associate at the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, previously she was a Research Fellow at IDS.

Read more blogs by Thea Shahrokh and Joanna Wheeler


Unlocking the transformative potential of storytelling

25/03/2014

Thea ShahrokhThea Shakrokh

“When people connect to political issues through personal stories, they see them in a different way. They don’t just see democracy in the abstract, they see ‘my democracy.’ The transformative potential of storytelling is written into the fabric of our lives.” Joanna Wheeler

Joanna Wheeler, until recently research fellow in the IDS Power, Participation and Social Change team, talked about Unlocking the transformative potential of storytelling in a recent Open Democracy article. The following summary is edited from Joanna’s Open Democracy post.

Joanna explains how people can understand democracy differently when they connect to political issues through personal stories. They don’t just see democracy as an  abstract concept, they see how it is relevant to them on a daily basis. Although stories may not provide all the answers, she emphasises that what is gained through their telling is important for social justice and democracy. They connect us to issues and to one another through the power of a narrative and the experience of empathy.

In 2013, she and Tessa Lewin helped to lead a collaborative process with citizens’ groups and government employees IDS partners MDPi and OneWorldSEE. They designed and supported a process that used creativity and technology to help people tell their stories about their experience of local governance (pdf). They called it ‘creative citizen engagement through storytelling’ and the examples bring to life the transformational power of stories. Telling a story in a safe space can be cathartic, revelatory, healing and empowering. It can also be unsettling, uncomfortable, and painful.  A collective process of creating and sharing stories becomes a crucible that helps to resolve these conflicting emotions. Furthermore Joanna’s insights provide an interesting reflection on how connections are made between personal stories and collective issues which are political, in the sense that they address relations of power. Read more about Participatory Visual Methods  and the work in Bosnia Herzegovina on participatorymethods.org.

Wider conversations on storytelling at IDS
In a previous blog, Hamsini Ravi, at that time a MA student at IDS’ MA in Participation, Power and Social Change course, sums up the learning from one of the sessions on ‘Reflective Practice and Social Change’ and lists the ways in which stories can have unforeseen impact.

Julia Day, Deputy Director and Head of Communications at the STEPS Centre based at IDS, explores the power of simplicity in storytelling through ‘Photovoice’, a participatory approach by which people combine narrative storytelling with photography, which is being used by their project partner Shibaji Bose, for the STEPS Centre’s Uncertainty from Below project.

The Participate Initiative engaged a series of participatory visual processes using digital storytelling and film to portray development issues through the stories and perspectives of those affected by poverty and marginalisation. These processes use multiple forms of creative media (images, film, audio, design, drawing, drama) in conjunction with participatory research processes to articulate, distil and communicate powerful messages.  For more information see their homepage  and the Work with Us online exhibition.

Thea Shahrokh is a Research Officer at the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS working on the role of visual methods in social change initiatives with Joanna Wheeler over the past 18 months..

Read more blogs by Thea Shahrokh:


Top PPSC blog posts in 2013

28/12/2013

Susanne SchirmerSue_Schirmer200

As we’re approaching the end of 2013 I would like to use the opportunity to highlight the top ten posts of the Participation, Power and Social Change blog, as well as some other interesting posts, that you might have missed.

This year we had an interesting array of posts providing commentary on events around the world, such as political change in Egypt, riots in Brazil, tragedies and revolts in Bangladesh, as well as presentations of outputs from some of our main research programmes and initiatives. Bloggers included researchers from the IDS Participation, Power and Social Change team, some of our partners, working with us on a variety of projects and some students associated with the team through our MA course in Participation, Power and Social Change and through our PhD programme.

Welcome to all those that joined our follower-list in 2013. We now have over 450 people following our blog and compared to 2012, we have more than doubled our views, which is excellent news. We hope you have found our posts interesting and even enjoyable. Please feel free to invite others to join our follower-group and find out what we’re up to.

Top 10 blog posts:

1. Participation for Development: Why is this a good time to be alive? By Robert Chambers

2. Bangladesh: Rana Plaza is a parable of globalisation by Naomi Hossain

3. From making us cry to making us act: five ways of communicating ‘development’ in Europe by Maria Cascant

4. The Marriage Trap: the pleasures and perils of same-sex equality by Stephen Wood

5. Bangladesh is revolting, again by Naomi Hossain

6. Storytelling in Development Practice by Hamsini Ravi

7. Missing the pulse of Egypt’s citizens? by Mariz Tadros

8. I’m (still) hungry, mum: the return of Care by Naomi Hossain

9. The crisis of Brazilian democracy, as seen from Mozambique by Alex Shankland

10. Heteronormativity: why demystifying development’s unspoken assumptions benefits us all by Stephen Wood

Other interesting blogs that you might have missed:

To give a different nuance to our commentary and research, we’ve also introduced some visual blog posts this year, showing videos, photographs and cartoons. Have a look:

Finally, on behalf of the Power, Participation and Social Change Team at IDS, we wish all our readers happy holidays (if you’re celebrating) and a good start into 2014. We will be back with more blog posts in early January.

Sue Schirmer works as Communications Coordinator for the Participation, Power and Social Change (PPSC) team at IDS.


Pay-as-you-go activism

09/12/2013

Joanna Wheeler and Thea Shahrokh Joanna_Wheeler200

During the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, here’s a question for all of us who believe that activism is part of the solution to gender-based violence in all its forms: can you buy activism?Thea Shakrokh

This question came up in response to a discussion with a leading feminist activist in India who was sharing her sense of accomplishment in what the women’s movement has been able to achieve in the last year since the horrifying events of 16th December and their aftermath. The women’s movement has been able to secure some major changes to legislation on rape and harassment in India through leveraging the political will that they have been able to catalyse in part through sustained activism. Yet she was also very clear that for her and her organisation, activism and the commitment of people within the organisation to activism had to be kept very separate from program funding from international donors. In her view, using donor money for activism would be the best way to kill it.

picture of entrance sign for Saartjie Baartman Centre

The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children in Cape Town is a one-stop centre for women and children who are survivors of abuse

This got us thinking about what creates sustained personal and political commitment in relation to gender-based violence. Last week, in Cape Town, as part of the work on the Accountable Grant policy theme on addressing and mitigating violence, we spent time working with the Western Cape Women’s Network on Violence Against Women in order to better understand how the possibility to act against gender-based violence has been developed through a programme called Prevention in Action. The central goal of Prevention in Action is to increase the number of women and men acting against gender based violence through a networked approach to social mobilisation. The programme involved identifying and training ‘community engagers’ and ‘community influencers’ and working with them to establish activist groups. These roles were funded through the programme, so the question became: where ‘action’ is the desired outcome of an initiative and you fund it directly, can it be anything more than pay-as-you-go?

Activists for hire?
Tensions in this example are linked to the role of external agencies in implementing social change initiatives and the extent to which action is being driven by monetary incentive, or the results framework of an NGO, and what this means for the sustainability of political action. One of the NGO partners in this process likened the situation on the ground to the game of a ‘living statue’: A person dressed and painted silver only moves when someone drops them a coin. She asked us whether financial incentives can build the strategies necessary to challenge the deeply harmful norms and actions that perpetuate gender-based violence. This question is made more difficult in a context of extreme poverty where people are negotiating how they will feed and house themselves and their families on a daily basis.

Talking to those involved on the ground tells another part of this story. For them, the consequences of gender-based violence are very real: ‘It is our children being raped and we are the ones that have to face this. Yes, the programme opened up the opportunity, but when the programme ends, we will still be here and we will still have to face this’. The experiences of the women we met show how the lives of activists extend beyond, around, and through any programme, and it is their own journeys as people that drive and enable action around gender based violence. A grounded understanding of the lives of the people involved is necessary to respond to the tensions of paying for activism. As Beth Mills discussed last week, this is also critical in responding to the paradox of a gendered, contextualised understanding of agency and empowerment and current development discourse and practice.

Valentina Pellizzer is a feminist activist in Bosnia and Herzgovinia, who we have been working with over the past few years on questions of democracy and citizenship for LGBTQI communities in the Balkans through the Participate initative and work on visualising democracy with SDC. Valentina made another interesting point about pay-as-you-go activism: if people with whom you are working and trying to mobilise see that you are getting paid for what you do, it undermines your legitimacy. In the context of the Balkans, this is interpreted as a mercenary strategy to get something out of the system rather than a real commitment to the issues and the goals. At the same time, she has many stories of ‘professional’ activists also acting as informants for the government or other external authorities. The latest scandal implicates a well-known activist as an informant for a global security firm, and shakes the trust towards civil society in a region where it desperately needs to be renewed and regained.

So where does that leave us?
The development industry is starting to recognise the importance of activism especially for issues like gender-based violence. At the organisational, or ‘professional’ level this means constantly making choices around resources, where are they allocated, and to what issues. Do you work ‘within the system’ to achieve change, or remain an outside critic—and what does this choice mean for how you get funding? For programmes such as Prevention in Action, the predictable result of donor-led activism is a pay-as-you-go approach where £5 pounds buys you one ‘act’ against gender-based violence. But how much can the politics we really need to address the deep roots of misogyny and violence really be done with donor funding? Can the commitment to particular causes for activists, which are based on personal identity and an intent to claim more democratic citizenship be incentivised? What really sustains this commitment and what undermines it? There are no simple answers to these questions, but if we want to really get to the bottom of how to use activism to challenge gender-based violence, we need to think very carefully about where and how money comes into the picture. When it comes to activism: can you buy it, and can it be sold?

Joanna Wheeler is a research fellow and Thea Shahrokh is a Research Officer. They are both members of the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS.

Read other blog posts relating to the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence


Involving the world’s poorest citizens in the post-2015 agenda

28/10/2013

Joanna WheelerJoanna_Wheeler200

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2013 issue of New World, the flagship publication of the United Nations Association – UK

In September, the world’s leaders, governments’ representatives to the UN and representatives from civil society from many countries converged on New York for a Special Event on the future global framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. Nearby, civil society organisations talked about how to get the voices of the poorest and most marginalised through the barriers that cordon off the UN Plaza and into the post-2015 process.

The barriers are not only physical – in many ways the entire process of consultations and surveys is set up to keep those perspectives from having any real weight. There is no formal system of accountability where the people who are most affected can challenge the decisions made about global development. Yet the success and legitimacy of the post-2015 framework will rest on the extent to which it provides for their meaningful participation.

While there are success stories about how the MDGs have been achieved, these are not often the stories told by the world’s poorest and most marginalised. Development interventions can often have unintended consequences: a village built to house indigenous people in Mexico sits abandoned because of the poor quality structures and the lack of viable livelihoods.

The poorest and most marginalised people have not been reached because of prevailing inequalities, including economic inequality (the lack of sufficient income), geographic inequality (many live in precarious conditions without land rights) and identity-based inequality (for example, gender-based discrimination is pervasive).

These become entrenched in the lives of people living in poverty – and they mean that simple and one-dimensional solutions are inadequate. For example, in Ghana, providing places in school is of little use if children cannot attend because they spend much of their day walking ever-greater distances to get water due to drought.

GCRN community meeting

Participatory Research in Ghana: People come together to discuss the issues that affect their lives and build plans to change their situation

The experience of poverty is also shaped by social norms and relationships of power that limit access to rights and services. For example, ‘city-makers’ in Chennai, India live on the streets, and are often unable to access services or their rights because they cannot secure formal identification. They are further discriminated against because they come from scheduled castes—making it more difficult for them to access dignified work or stable housing.

In order to understand how people have been left behind by the MDG approach, we need to understand what prevents people from making the changes that they are calling for, and how they think that these obstacles can be overcome. Research carried out by the Participate network in 29 countries shows that future development processes need a different approach in order really to reach those who are most often excluded. This vision for global development provides an important reality-check, and is based on the following:

  • Rights and recognition for all. Rights are foundational for recognition and dignity. Being treated with respect by family members, public officials and representatives of the state, and wider society helps people see themselves as citizens. As citizens, they are able to act to demand greater fairness and access to the resources they need.
  • Inclusion, solidarity, collective action. The most marginalised people experience discrimination within their families, in their communities and their wider society. Collective action is needed to address these problems, and that requires us to address the barriers that stop people coming together to mobilise effectively.
  • Participation, accountability, democratic institutions. Institutions that are democratic and accountable will respond to the demands of the poorest and most marginalised, and participatory approaches to decision-making can help ensure this happens.
  • Services and policies that respond to the needs of the poorest. Services and policies that effectively respond to the needs of the poorest people are holistic, long-term and have a focus on quality. Dignified livelihoods are a necessary element of their success.

It is not yet clear what the new global development framework will look like, and therefore it is even less clear how the perspectives, voices and decisions of those most affected by poverty and exclusion will be included in the process. The current paradigms of development aid are breaking down, and the emerging framework could set out new parameters that put people at its centre and give them a real say in the decisions that affect them.

Meaningful participation needs to start now while the framework is being set – and continue throughout the implementation, monitoring and evaluation stages. Without this, the post-2015 process will become just another top-down example of UN member states failing to address the most pressing problems of our time.

Joanna Wheeler is a research fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS and co-director of the Participate Initiative

Read other recent blogs about Participate:


Participate: Response to the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda Report

07/06/2013

Joanna Wheeler and Danny Burns Joanna Wheeler mini photo Danny Burns photo mini

This post previously appeared on the Participate blog. Subscribe to their blog for regular updates on the Participate initiative.

This response is based on in-depth participatory research with people living in poverty and marginalisation, from 18 organisations working in over 30 countries worldwide, which together form the Participate initiative’s Participatory Research Group network. The research has included people with disabilities, older people, people with mental health issues, urban dwellers, people living in slums, rural communities, indigenous communities, farmers, people affected by natural disasters, youth, vulnerable children and children outside of parental care, marginalised women, sex workers and sexual minorities.

Read the full response here

Citizens at the Centre

It is encouraging that the Panel has evidently listened closely to some of the issues raised by people living in poverty and marginalisation. The focus on eradicating poverty, promoting sustainability, addressing conflict and violence, and protecting human rights and dignity are welcome. The strong stance on gender equality reflects the gendered nature of poverty and discrimination articulated by people participating in this research across the world. The acknowledgement that strong accountability and the participation of the poorest and most marginalised is essential but most of all, the commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ marks a potential shift in the global approach to development.

However, ultimately the High Level Panel report does not go far enough in its focus on those most affected by poverty and marginalisation.  A ‘people-centred’ agenda is one in which the transformation of societies is led by citizens themselves—including the poorest and most marginalised. This must be the guiding principle that underpins the new global development framework.

Whilst the report emphasises transformative shifts, it does not fully recognise the most important transformative shift of all—recognising the ability of those living in poverty and marginalisation to act to address their own situation, and then building a global development framework that supports them rather than reinforcing existing powerful interests. Going forward, the UN process needs to take the perspectives of those living in greatest poverty much more seriously in how the agenda is set.

Transforming Shifts?

The High Level Panel Report proposes 5 ‘transformative shifts’, needed for the new global development framework.  If these transformative shifts were seen through the perspectives of those living in greatest poverty and exclusion, there would be some important differences.

Participate’s full response to the High Level Panel report analyses how the post-2015 framework must go further if these shifts are truly going to be ‘transformative’:

  •  ‘Leave no one behind’—but don’t lose sight of who is getting ahead
  • ‘Put sustainable development at the core’—but don’t force people to make impossible choices
  • ‘Transform economics for jobs and inclusive growth’—but growth isn’t always good
  • Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all’—but don’t ask if you won’t really listen
  • ‘Forge a new global partnership’—but it must be led by citizens

Participate offers further critique on the agenda proposed by the High Level Panel around their proposals for data disaggregation; the need to understand intersecting inequalities, and challenge discrimination and unequal social norms; and the need to address gender equality across the development framework.

The High Level Panel report provides a welcome input to the global discussions on the post-2015 agenda. As advocates in this process, Participate looks to the Panel members to continue to articulate the importance of inclusion of the poorest and most marginalised people in on-going debates and processes of policy formulation, as well as the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals.

Read other recent blog posts from Participate: