Rural women empowered at Masimanyane leadership retreat

More than 20 rural women from as far afield as Dutywa and Dimbaza have benefitted from the most recent Masimanyane women’s leadership retreat in East London.

The three-day retreat, which forms part of Masimanyane’s Eastern Cape sector strengthening programme, was aimed at developing the leadership capacity of women from the Ikhwelo network to engage strategically with violence against women in their communities.

The intensive, hands-on programme was also designed to increase women’s awareness about building a feminist culture in their various organisations, including a strong ethic of self-care.

Course facilitator Michelle Festus lauded the group as being especially vibrant and eager to learn and to be capacitated to better serve women in their communities.

“These women are all leaders in their own right who already do fantastic work in their communities,” she said. “Each and every one of our participants brought with them a tremendous love of community, and a great desire to be of service to others.”

In addition to workshopping key concepts such as gender and gender equality, patriarchy and women’s rights within a human rights framework, the women also spent time learning important self-care techniques, including body mapping, journaling and self-reflection.

One of the most popular components of the programme was an introduction to Tai Chi as a means to reduce stress and anxiety, and increase overall health and wellbeing.

Neliswa Melane, of the Sophumelele Women’s Club in Dimbaza, said she was looking forward to taking many of the empowerment techniques she learnt back into her community.

“Women desperately need support. They need to know that they are not alone, that there are other women in similar situations. I’m very motivated to go back and mobilise as many women as possible to share and to form support systems for each other,” she said.

Lisa Silwana, who runs the Help-a-Student youth empowerment group in King William’s Town, said she was most grateful for the support and encouragement she received from the other participants.

“Many of these women are older and have a lot of experience in their communities,” she said. “Apart from the course work, it was also very helpful to share information with them, and to know that we are building a network of women who want to help each other.”

Working with youth can be challenging, she noted, but the new skills she gained during the leadership retreat would definitely be a valuable new tool.

“I feel very energised and motivated, not only because of what we learnt, but also having been surrounded by and learning from such inspirational women.”

Colleen Mapatwana, of the gender empowerment group, Daughters of Integrity in Dutywa, said she was looking forward to integrating many of the practical skills like body mapping and Tai Chi into her community work.

“One of the most difficult things for women who have suffered abuse is to open up and tell their personal stories. I have been strengthened and hugely motivated by the openness and bravery of the women who took part in this forum.

"For too long women’s voices have been shuttered. What we experienced over the past three days is an important step towards setting those shuttered voices free and helping women to be heard.”

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