On 24 August 2018, the Women's Rights Unit at the Centre for Human Rights, in collaboration with HelpAge, the South African Older Person's Forum (SAOPF) and the Department of Student Affairs hosted an Intergenerational Dialogue. The dialogue focused on the vulnerabilities faced by younger and older women in the fight against gender based violence. It brought together younger and older women from all over Tshwane. The dialogue also sought to collectively come up with strategies for countering violence and build solidarity across the different age groups (young, middle-aged and older women).
The day started with a brief discussion on how participants were expected to conduct themselves. The nature of the topic being discussed was such that some personal stories could and would be shared and as such, we had to be in agreement that we would treat each other with love, sensitivity and respect. From there, we went right into our first session, headed by Marian Gotha, from HelpAge South Africa, on the Life Course Approach to Ageing. In this session, participants discussed the phases of ageing from birth to death and the needs that mostly characterise each phase of a person’s life.
The second session of the day was presented by Sister Alidah Kekana of Student Health Services, University of Pretoria and she spoke about a particular kind of vulnerability which renders older women at risk of violence and abuse - the illness of dementia. Sister Alidah noted how women's lives seem to always belong to someone else, more specifically a man, from birth to death - first you are your father's daughter and then you are handed over to a husband as a wife. This has an effect on a woman's agency and how the world views her should she not have either of these figures in her life. The crux of the discussion was the fact that older women who suffer from dementia are often undiagnosed, misdiagnosed and ultimately misunderstood (for example, because they suffer from dementia, they are at risk of being accused of witchcraft). As a result, they are at risk of being physically, emotionally, mentally and financially abused by their families and communities.
After this presentation, was the screening of the short-film 'Kaya' by Adebayo Okeowo, which is a story about the vulnerability that older women face when their spouse die. It depicts a hostile extended family who wants to chase the woman and her children's from their home and the violation of their rights that ensues thereafter.
The dialogue covered two main themes: The specific vulnerabilities that younger and older women face, and the strategies to change the status quo and end violence against women. The participants steered the conversation to a discussion of how women have contributed to an increased vulnerability of other women to violence, in particular how older women contribute to violence against younger women. Other issues discussed included pressures faced by young women to marry and have children, mothers in law violating daughters in law, pregnant and vulnerable young women being chased from home by older women, secondary victimisation of rape victims and other forms of moral judgement and censor based on cultural and religious beliefs. This lead to frank discussion and emotive experience sharing as well as the learning and unlearning of negative behaviours.
The main conclusions that emerged included:
- Recognition of the structural systems and institutions which allow for the perpetuation of gender based violence.
- Strategies to end gender based violence should be targeted at dismantling these systems and institutions of oppression, examples include religion and culture rooted in patriarchy and the role of the family as an agent of socialisation.
- Suggestions on how to tackle these systems ranged from accepting that culture is not stagnant, dismantling patriarchy, the need for mentorship and opportunity sharing among women such as conducting intergenerational dialogues in churches, schools and communities.
- Increased research to understand the drivers of violence against women.
In wrapping up the dialogue, Patience Mungwari Mpani of the Women's Rights Unit, located this dialogue in the context of the Hashtag AgeWithRights Campaign, and the scourge of gender based violence. This event straddles two of the Centre’s projects namely the SHUREA project that seeks to strengthen Human Rights Research and Education in Sub Saharan Africa and the Centre Campaign on the Rights of older women, which is being spearheaded by the Women’s Rights Unit. She encouraged participants to also consider how young persons can also increase the vulnerability of older women to violence, through neglect, abuse and discrimination of older persons. All of this highlighted the need for research on the violence against women throughout the life cycle of women from birth to death and how more dialogues such as this one would help us to understand each other across generations but also better our lives as a result of such understanding.