Port Louis — Working with survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) is like handling broken crystals. Helping to put all the pieces back together is both rewarding and challenging. But, after one week of working with some brave women I have witnessed these pieces forming a whole again. A week of entrepreneurship training coupled with love and care, helped remind them that self-esteem, agency and change is achievable.
Over the last three weeks, Gender Links—Mauritius (GL) contributed to changing the lives of 64 women, with the roll out of a weeklong Entrepreneurship Training Programme for survivors of GBV from five different regions of Mauritius. GL worked with the Municipal Councils of Curepipe and Vacoas as well as the District Councils of Moka, Grand Port and Black River.
GL developed the programme because there is a growing belief that to achieve gender equality, we have to improve women's economic status. One of the biggest challenges in achieving gender equality is GBV, and economically disempowered women are less able to escape this abuse.
GL has conducted a Violence Against Women (VAW) Baseline Study in six SADC countries - Botswana, Mauritius, four provinces of South Africa, four districts of Zambia, Lesotho and Zimbabwe. This study shows lifetime prevalence rates of VAW at 25% in Mauritius to 89% in Zambia.
The results of the War @ Home - Mauritius Report shows that similar a proportion of men (23%) admit to perpetrating violence against women in their lifetime, and most of the violence occurs within intimate relationships. In his forward to the study, Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam, Prime Minister of Mauritius hit the nail on the head saying, “Gender-based violence is a human rights violation and reflects inequality between women and men. Such violence has profound implications on the health, dignity, security and autonomy of those affected not only the victims but also the entire family.”
The 64 women who attended the training were some of the 108 survivors who shared their personal GBV testimonies. One woman explains how she gave birth to three handicapped children because her husband regularly beat her, even during her pregnancies.
The aim of the Entrepreneurship Training Programme is to economically empower women, helping to increase their agency and independence. This will enable them to leave abusive relationships and putting an end to the violence perpetrated against them. As Brian Glover, Chairperson of the Equal Commission emphasises, we must translate research findings into action, and working with those who need help can make change happen.
The programme, which is now underway in 100 councils in nine other Southern African counties, teaches survivors of GBV a combination of applied life and entrepreneurial skills as well as basic business and IT knowledge.
“Participants engaged well with the training manual, fact sheets and case studies translated in Creole. They found the market and money session as well as the IT session very empowering,” explains Anushka Virahsawmy, GL Country Manager and Course Facilitator.
At the age of seven, Radima* was beaten and abused. At the age of ten, she was admitted to a youth rehabilitation centre and then a foster home. After leaving the home at 15, a man raped her and she gave birth to a baby boy.
From drug addiction, sex work and spending five years in a prison cell, Radima has been through it all. After the training programme, she told the class, “The first day was tough, on the second day I felt better and now I know what I am worth and nobody will ever abuse me. I know my rights. I thank Gender Links for that.”
We very often hear about the ‘untouchables' in India but not those in Mauritius. One of the participants told the class, “I thought I was an untouchable but after one week I found people who do give love and this changed my life. I am now another person and being an untouchable is something of the past.”
Before the training programme, Norima's* best friend was a bottle of rum. Virahsawmy explains that the first day she came to the course drunk. “I took her aside and talked to her. As soon as I held her two hands, she could not stop crying. The second day she came to course sober and on the third day she did not only show how much she had grasped from the course but was helping other participants with filling their forms and facilitating group work.”
Virahsawmy and the two GL interns, Jody Modely and Farah Mahungoo will continue to help these women with the groundwork to start their own businesses. Some women are already working together planting and selling vegetables; breeding and selling chickens; buying a tricycle to transport and sell products, while others are attending craft courses or visiting the authorities to apply for business permits.
To ensure the success and sustainability of the programme, the National Empowerment Foundation signed a Memorandum of Understanding with GL— Mauritius. Minister of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare, Mireille Martin as well as Indira Seebun, Managing Director of Small and Media Enterprise Development Authority have also promised their support. With this collective commitment, we are hopeful that these women and others across the region will no longer be dependent wives or just survivors of abuse, but will be successful independent entrepreneurs.
*Not their real names
Loga Virahsawmy is the Director of Gender Links—Mauritius. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.