Building Connections Between Movements, Immigrant Rights and Ending Violence Against Girls and Women
Day 2: Cape Town, South Africa—Refugees, Migrant Women & Xenophobia
Our purpose: We are in South Africa to learn from and with allied activists and sister movements on how we can build global movements for liberation and social change.
Our Day’s Itinerary:
- Tour Salt River Community House
- Meet with Mary Tal of the Whole World Women Association (WWWA) to talk about migrant women and xenophobic violence
- WWWA Poetry Exchange
- Choice of Visiting Local Craft Market or Cape Town coastline
Eager for another day of learning and exchanging with activists in Cape Town, we began our day with a short drive to the Community House at Salt River which has been an important site of activism starting with anti-apartheid struggles and lasting through to the present day. It is a stable home and meeting place for several organizations and trade unions and represents an important piece of infrastructure for ongoing struggles for liberation. Rita Demorney, manager of the Community House, gave us a tour and shared that she sees the building’s purpose as keeping ubuntu alive and making sure that future generations are educated about the history of apartheid so it is never repeated. Every area of the building is dedicated to a fallen activist, with images of them and their stories adorning all of the walls.
While at the Community House, we were hosted by Mary Magdalene Tal for an all-day program. As a Cameroonian refugee, Mary knows first-hand how difficult it is to get any support in South Africa. Like Mary, thousands of women flee their home countries for South Africa to escape persecution, war, political conflict, and gender and/or cultural forms of violence such as genital mutilation or forced marriage. In their adopted country of South Africa, refugees face additional challenges including homelessness, poverty, and trauma. In addition, they are vulnerable to acts of violence and xenophobia. This experience led her to start the Whole World Women Association (WWWA), an organization that supports refugee women.
The Whole World Women Association works with refugee women to foster healing by fighting for their rights, providing counseling and health services, and offering life skills training. By building solidarity between refugee and local women, WWWA also helps to minimize xenophobia. The organization’s success is largely due to the way Mary leads the work. When introducing Mary to us, Rajasvini Bhansali, executive director of International Development Exchange (IDEX) and faculty for this trip, said that Mary demonstrates what it really means to lead from the heart.
Her way of heart-centered leadership was evident in the agenda for the day. We started by doing group meditation to help manage any trauma that might be triggered when hearing stories of the violence experienced by migrant women. It was followed by popular education theater to illustrate the types of challenges they face in South Africa. We then heard a heart-wrenching story told by a member of WWWA to help personalize the challenges faced by both the migrant women and the organization in trying to assist them, accompanied by a group discussion. During lunch, we had the opportunity to converse with and get to know more of the members of WWWA. We closed out with a powerful exchange of poetry and song.
Move to End Violence has intentionally focused on building connections between the U.S. immigrant rights movement and the movement to end violence against girls and women as part of a strategy to strengthen intersectionality and inclusivity. Similarly, WWWA brings together these two movements in South Africa, which led to a rich dialogue. How do you help women reclaim their agency and power when they are continuously being re-victimized? How do you work in a country like South Africa, that is still reeling and healing from apartheid, and ask them to take on the problems of refugees when there is no political will? How do you incorporate politicization as part of a collective healing process when people are solely focused on survival?
We didn’t develop any solutions during our time there, but perhaps the power of the exchange is best expressed by one of the Movement Makers: “Sometimes I get tired of fighting. And I don’t have the answers either. But hearing your story makes me want to keep fighting.”
To help close out an intense program, some members of our group visited a local craft market and others went to relax by the coast. We all used this time to reflect on the day and refresh for another powerful day tomorrow.