“To nurture a (food) garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.” This rings very true for the survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) who’ve embarked with POWA on a new skills development project in Winterveld, North-West province.
People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) is a South African feminist organisation dedicated to assistance to GBV survivors. Since 1979, it provides professional services comprising of advocacy, training, psychosocial support, legal advice and sheltering to survivors of domestic violence.
In 2021, POWA embarked on a partnership with the Embassy of France in South Africa to pilot a project aimed at empowering women in the Klipgat community, Winterveld, who have been experiencing violence and abuse, with sustainable farming (permaculture) and entrepreneurial skills. These skills are meant to assist them to become more food secure, self-sufficient and self-reliant – and ultimately, to break the intricate cycle of violence and abuse.
The initiative helps upflift the general well-being and agency of these women, and reduce their social, economic and emotional vulnerability.
We are proud of ourselves, for creating this garden, for picking ourselves up and committing to it. We are learning the value of working as a group. This is just the beginning, nothing can stop us from growing this initiative further. It is very beneficial to ourselves, our families and our community.
The project is funded through the French Embassy’s Civil Society Development Fund (CSDF), under a programme supporting the work of 9 feminist organisations in Lesotho and South Africa to prevent GBV prevention and empower rural women through environment & climate-friendly livelihoods.
Women’s economic agency – their capacity to act independently and to make their own choices freely – and access to productive resources are key to achieving gender equality, and to transforming the conditions and mindsets that feed women’s vulnerability to violence. They can also leverage poverty reduction, improved food security and sustainable development in general.
About 25 participants (including 3 men) have committed to the journey. Week after week, they are working together to establish and maintain the communal vegetable garden, honing their permaculture farming skills as they go. Some of the participants already had an interest, and some experience cultivating vegetable at home. The project is helping remotivate them and enhance their farming skills, to better manage their home food garden and possibly generate an income out of these skills.
POWA has partnered with two other organisations to roll out the project. St John the Baptist Catholic Clinic aned Old Age Home, in Winterveld, is availing an unused plot of land and water tanks on their premises. In return, the project provided funds to fix the broken borehole pump. The participants have cleared out the land, and are turning the dry and rocky soil into a lush vegetable and herbs garden, using permaculture techniques. It took only one month to harvest the first crop of cabbage, mustard, Morogo, and spinach. The produce is used by the participants for their families, but also donated to the nearby orphanage and old age home, as well as sold as cash-crop.
POWA roped in another South African organisation, Food and Trees for Africa (FTFA), for their expertise in terms of permaculture and agri-business training in communities. FTFA’s methodology, implemented in hundreds of gardens across the country for more than 20 years now, provides for an experiential learning approach. It gives GBV survivors an oppportunity to engage and practically apply the skills they learned in a communal vegetable garden, while simultaneously learning how to sustain their food gardens and to navigate the agri-business environment to generate an income.
Besides the technical farming and agri-business training, the project includes awareness sessions and support on issues of GBV and practical and legal options available to address their plight.
The project participants and POWA staff are unanimous: the communal vegetable garden is a safe and therapeutic space for GBV survivors to deal with their experience of abuse. Without even realising it, they are growing self-confidence and self-respect, and pride of what they are capable of achieving, individually and as a group. It is also providing an opportunity to learn and support each other.
The project is proving so beneficial that POWA is already looking into replicating it in their shelters for abused women and children.
This partnership is made possible thanks to the Support Fund for Feminist Organisations of the French Republic. Its goal is to support feminist civil society organizations (CSOs) operating in partner countries of France’s development policy. The fund is co-managed by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and the French Development Agency (AFD). It falls within the framework of France’s feminist diplomacy and its International Strategy for Gender Equality 2018-2022.