Victors of abuse

Showing their support for the Orange Day Campaign, is from left: Embassy of Ireland Ambassador Liam MacGabhann, Edcon general manager of transformation Elelwane Pahlana and Edcon CEO Bernie Brookes.

Since she was a little girl, Henrietta battled abuse at the hands of her own father.

These horrifying memories came flooding back when her twin girls, who were four years old at the time, were molested by her stepfather.

While she had to stay strong for her girls in the ongoing court battle, she could not deal with the pain of her own past, and decided to go to a shelter for abused women in Kenilworth, where she started her road to recovery.

It was there that Henrietta was introduced to the Orange Campaign, where she and a number of women at the shelter were taught skills such as designing, sewing and merchandise administration, while being mentored by some of South Africa’s top designers.

And on Thursday December 7, at the Avenue Conference Centre at the V&A Waterfront, as the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign was drawing to a close, she was among 40 survivors in Cape Town who celebrated reaching the halfway mark in the journey of overcoming their pain.

The conference centre was adorned in orange, and all the survivors and supporters wore different shades of orange, with slogans such as “Break the Silence” on their T-shirts.

On display was clothing that women from different shelters across Cape Town designed and which formed part of a competition. The best designed products from a shelter walked away with different prizes.

The Orange Day Campaign was first initiated by Edcon in partnership with UN Women, the provincial government in Gauteng, the provincial and national Fashion Councils and SEWAfrica College. After its launch, the programme was introduced in KwaZulu-Natal in 2016 and in the Western Cape in July 2017.

This was the first Orange Day programme to be held in Cape Town.

Edcon CEO Bernie Brooks told the CapeTowner that about 30 women are selected in each area through community groups.

They were then trained in anything from how to be a seamstress to design, fabrics and products, and, given that skillset, they could become entrepreneurs and build sustainable futures.

“That’s the commercial reality of how it works, but going with it is the by-product of giving them a new lease on life and competence, and after the hardship that they’ve been through, the opportunity to bond with other sisters that have been through a similar journey.”

The programme lasts about six months and at the end of the programme, the women will undergo an intensive three-month accredited training by SEWAfrica College, the training partner of the campaign.

Elelwane Pahlana,the general manager of transformation at Edcon, said: “We are pleased with the progress that these women have made thus far. As we stated at the launch of the project, our aim is to finally integrate these women into the Edcon supply chain.

“A process we have already started with women from some of the shelters in Gauteng.”

Mr Brooks said over the next few years, the programme will be rolled out to all nine provinces, and the hope is that people who graduate will go on to run their own programmes and then go on to help other shelters.

At the event, keynote speaker Deputy Minister of Social Developement, Ipeleng Bogopane-Zulu, encouraged the public and NGO organisations to work with the boys in their communities so that they become respectable men.

“The day women stand up and say ‘no more gender violence’, there will be no more gender violence. The power lies with us as women. How are we raising our sons? Women have so much power, but we have lost it somewhere, and we need to get it back. We need to fix our families and we need to be there for our boys. We must remember that men are not born abusers.

“We need more facilities for our men, and a friendly space where they can receive help and recover from their hardships.”

Ms Bogopane-Zulu also encouraged women not to stay in abusive relationships for the sake of their children, or for financial reasons.

“Women, please consult your children. Don’t use them as an excuse because they don’t like what is going on in their home. They then end up hating their fathers because of what they do to their mothers. Don’t stay for the children – they dont like it.”

The minister said unless women redefined their families and strengthened that unit, gender violence would continue.

Henrietta added that she had a seven-year-old son whose father was always disappointing him, and an idea she had for her community was to start an “adopt a dad or son” project, so that boys had positive role models.

“When my child’s father disappoints him, I’m not going to use that as an excuse for my son. I will go and kick that ball with my son. I want him to be empowered.”

She said when she first joined the campaign, she had been in a very dark place. “When they asked if we want to form part of the Orange Campaign, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. I am grateful to the campaign for bringing us together.

“I am proud of the women who opened up, who spoke up.”

The United Nations first launched the Orange Day campaign as a global initiative to raise awareness about gender-based violence. The colour orange was chosen for its brightness, and as a representation of optimism and a future free from violence.

The UN has declared the 25th of every month, as an Orange Day, which calls for global mobilisation to highlight issues relevant to preventing and ending violence against women and girls.