Lesley Ann Foster, Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre, Meets with Movement Makers to Reflect on Leadership and Movement Building
Day 9: Johannesburg –Bringing it All Together
- Meet with Lesley Ann Foster, Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre
- Visit Apartheid Museum
- Celebration Outing
It’s hard to believe that today was our last full day of programming here in South Africa. To help bring it all together and connect what’s happening in the movement and our individual leadership journeys, Lesley Ann Foster of Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre spent the morning with us sharing her impeccable insights. For over 20 years, she has successfully worked in community, nationally, and internationally to advocate for the rights of girls and women and to combat violence against them, using a multitude of strategies.
Lesley Ann described some of the consequences of apartheid, including how the forced removals devastated community cohesion and that violence became normalized. Post-apartheid, the women’s movement clarified their vision in the Women’s Charter for Effective Equality and she feels the movement is in a moment when they need to again find that clarity of vision and support leaders to drive it.
She spoke at length about the current state of the movement and the backlash against women’s rights, much of it driven by international funding pressures. These include a switch to gender-neutral policy that does not acknowledge the disproportionate violence faced by women, focusing on family and children or men and boys rather than women, pushing for a process of equity rather than the end goal of equality, professionalization of NGOs and services as well as privatization of the field, religious fundamentalism across all religions, and hierarchies of violence where the everyday violence that permeates women’s lives is allowed to be ignored. Overall, she spoke strongly to the need to re-politicize violence against women.
This sparked discussion among the Movement Makers about when to accept funding, fissures within the movement, backlash against women-centered language and practices, and lack of clarity in our analysis in the U.S.
Lesley Ann closed with multiple leadership lessons that she has learned herself over the years and wanted to impart to us. She put it as “women have earned the right to be terminally tired”, and her experience of burnout and the need for self-care resonated with many of us. She spoke of the need to always be developing new leadership: “An important lesson was not to hold onto good people and build the culture around me, I had to let them go and they took the work to the next level” and “Leadership and leading is not a solo game. It’s not about you and you can’t do it alone.” She shared that “leadership is an inside job” and you have to constantly be self-reflective and take the time for your own renewal.
We spent the afternoon at the Apartheid Museum, a powerful collection of photography, news clips, and other historical artifacts documenting the rise and fall of apartheid. The museum opened in 2001 and provides rich context for many of the things we have been learning, including leaders we have been hearing about and are inspired by, successful strategies for building a powerful movement in the face of violence, the patience and great personal risk needed to build a mass movement, and the complicated transition from activism to governance.
To help decompress afterward, we had the pleasure of visiting a jazz club in Johannesburg to see Pilani Bubu, a young black South African singer-songwriter whose lyrics touch on love, heartbreak, and following your dreams. Colleagues from Just Detention International – South Africa and Positive Women’s Network joined us – and PWN even received a shout-out from the stage. Listening to Pilani’s lyrics together, “you will find the joy in living life in your own way…”, was a fitting way to celebrate our last night together of a powerful and affirming journey.