Our work supporting communities to create zero percent gender-based violence in communities is rooted in Letsema, our innovative pilot process mooted to address the high levels of GBV in the Vaal in Gauteng Province of South Africa. Letsema intervention combines feminist leadership with ideas of organisation and community development. The intervention sprung from a Gender Action Learning (GAL) program run by the LRS Gender Programme and Gender at Work that focused on addressing Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE), HIV/Aids and GBV.
Since 2008, we’ve successfully carried out GAL processes with trade unions, community organisations, and NGOs in South Africa to create cultures of greater equality, support work on women’s empowerment and foster conditions that enhance human dignity, inclusion and non-discrimination. GAL processes use popular education principles and action-learning in reflective spaces where participants explore gender and other power inequalities, become open to co-creation of new positive gender-related social norms and more inclusive practices, and collectively develop strategies to act on them.
With the increasing levels of violence against women and girls and especially Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) groups in South Africa, we’ve been testing if GAL approaches can be used with large numbers of people in whole communities to end gender-based violence.
The community/GAL approach seeks to work at the whole system level to leverage maximum collective impact. The approach supports locally-driven assessment and engagement with community multi-stakeholder discussion on what to do and how to change things. The approach creates a sense of ownership and collective engagement that is critical for violence prevention and works to transform social norms underpinning gender inequality.
We piloted Letsema in the Vaal area where we’ve established partnerships with several organisations and activists working around GBV issues. The Vaal is a semi-rural part of Gauteng Province. Over one million people live there and with little or no access to municipal services. Many people in the Vaal are poor and unemployed, and the levels of violence are high. The area has a history of violence. During apartheid, there were a lot of killings and violence. Today, violence is normalised and people are prone to use violence to cause any change.
Letsema’s broad core group worked with the framing question: “What will it take to create zero percent GBV in the Vaal?”. The process brought different voices, perspectives and experiences around ways of rooting out gender-based violence in the area.
Our work in the Vaal brings together many stakeholders, including trade unions (South African Policing Union – SAPU; Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union – POPCRU; Health & Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa – HOSPERSA), activists, community-based organisations, traditional healers, the police, church groups, community police forums, local radio stations, a university and the departments of community safety department and social development.
The preliminary results are promising. Our work is beginning to transform deeply rooted social norms on a small scale in the Vaal Triangle with Letsema. There are shifts in gender-related attitudes, norms and behaviours. Through supporting a community and institution-led initiatives at a local level, we’ve started to develop a prototype and experience for how to work in a way that links actors, as well as strengthening networks striving to address GBV across many levels and spaces. Letsema members have a better understanding of open space technology as a way of working with large groups and are supporting a new community called Savannah to develop its own responses to gender-based violence.