Campaign calls for end to ‘domestic silence’

People Opposing Woman Abuse’s Healing Days campaign creates a platform for survivors of abuse to share their stories.

The war against gender-based violence was emboldened when People Opposing Woman Abuse (POWA) and JOKO hosted a Healing Days campaign at the Baptist Church in Khayelitsha recently.

Healing Days, part of the #EndDomesticSilence initiative run by Powa and the tea brand that took place in nine provinces, sees domestic violence survivors speaking about their experiences of abuse and their healing journeys.

The event was attended by Powa staff, church members, the South African Police Service, neighbourhood watch members, staff of Lavender Hill-based NGO Philisa Abafazi Bethu ,as well as staff and gender-based violence (GBV) survivors supported by Mpho Ya Basadi based in Zwelethemba, Worcester.

Philisa Abafazi Bethu and Mpho Ya Basadi are two of 14 NGOs, working in GBV hot spots nationwide, that Powa has partnered with through the #EndDomesticSilence initiative. This partnership has involved training them on numerous aspects of domestic violence, assisting them to improve their governance structures and hosting Healing Days.

Powa spokeswoman, Thandiwe McCloy, said Healing Days gave GBV survivors an opportunity to share their stories in a safe space that was non-judgmental and supportive.

“It’s very beneficial for survivors to share their stories to assist them to let go of their traumatic experiences and gain strength, comfort, support and learn from each other,” she said.

At the Healing Day in Khayelitsha, women spoke openly about their experiences of abuse. At the event they were also encouraged to write down their troubling issues on small pieces of paper, which were then burnt to symbolise forever releasing them from their lives. In addition, there was a candle lighting ceremony in remembrance of women killed by their partners.

“The importance of this event in Khayelitsha cannot be overemphasised,” said Powa in a media statement. “The area is among the country’s 30 GBV hot spots, has been plagued with rape, domestic violence and murder of women in recent years.”

At the Khayelitsha Healing Days event, a 44-year-old survivor spoke of how her ex-partner would insult and beat her if she ever left the house without telling him where she was going.

“He sometimes locked me in the house, left with our child and came back much later,” she added.

She said a woman once saw him smacking her for talking to another man and encouraged her to leave him and seek counselling at Mpho Ya Basadi.

“I’m really benefiting from the counselling and support groups they provide in a nice, calm and confidential environment,” she said. “Healing Days are important because through talking about our abuse, the pain and memories leave us and we heal. By sharing our problems together, we help each other sort them out as we travel on our healing journeys.”

Another survivor, who is 68 years old and was in an abusive marriage for 30 years, spoke of her ex-husband preventing her from speaking to friends and family, raping her and hitting her ear so hard that she couldn’t hear for three weeks.

“What has helped me is breaking the silence,” she said.

“I always tell women to break the silence of their abuse and not keep it inside – just as we were encouraged to do at the Healing Day.”

Sylvia Mpinana, the founder and CEO of Mpho Ya Basadi

Sylvia Mpinana, the founder and CEO of Mpho Ya Basadi said: “It was a powerful day for the survivors, which took a load off their shoulders, healed them emotionally and highlighted that it’s okay to cry and talk about your abusive experiences.”

In addition to giving women the platform to share their experiences of abuse, the Healing Day also gave men the platform to talk about the impact of GBV on their lives. One man spoke about seeing a man killing his girlfriend, being a witness in court and going to her funeral. Feeling that he could have done more to help her, he is now racked with sadness and guilt and wants to go for counselling at Mpho Ya Basadi.

Their work includes holding workshops with men, women and youth, with debates that get to the heart of various GBV-related issues.

“Participants talk openly about the impact of domestic violence on women, which gives others a better understanding of it,” said Ms Mpinana.

“Some men think it’s okay to beat their wives because they witnessed their fathers abusing their mothers. We talk about how growing up in a toxic environment can lead one to normalise and perpetrate GBV, which is wrong.

“In some cases, unemployed men lash out at partners, who are working, out of frustration. Our workshops highlight to men that they shouldn’t feel insecure and powerless if they aren’t working, but can support their families by doing household chores. Men are raised not to cry or talk about their own experiences of abuse and this can lead them to become abusive because they haven’t properly dealt with their trauma.”

In the workshops, Ms Mpinana also informs participants about the importance of healthy communication.

“We highlight the need for couples to talk about problems as they arise, rather than bottle them up, which has the potential to result in domestic violence,” she explained. “It’s also necessary for couples to wait until they’re calm before discussing problems.”

Participants at the Healing Days event held in Khayelitsha recently.