When Nompu found a job

Andy Gibbs, of South Africa’s HEARD Gender Equality and HIV Prevention Programme, on the impact of helping young people in South Africa strengthen their livelihoods.

In 2012 Nompu was one of the growing number of young women living in an urban informal settlement in South Africa. UN HABITAT estimates that by 2050 1.2 billion people in Africa alone will live in informal settlements. Nompu had moved from rural KwaZulu-Natal to Durban, a port city on the east coast of Africa, in the hope of finding a job and establishing a better life for herself. Yet, without completing her high school education, she struggled to find work. In the midst of high levels of unemployment, limited state support, dense living conditions and a struggle for survival, Nompu was often beaten by her boyfriend. Nompu’s boyfriend himself felt alienated from everyday life, without proper work and struggling to make a life for himself.

Nompu’s life was not very different to many of the young people HEARD, Project Empower and the Gender and Health Research Unit at the South African Medical Research Council, work with.

Nompu came to join a participatory project called Stepping Stones and Creating Futures run by Project Empower. Based on the assumption that violence against women can be prevented, Stepping Stones and Creating Futures works with both young women and men around gender, relationships, HIV, violence and health. In addition, recognising how poverty and unemployment put women at greater risk of experiencing violence from a partner and unable to leave violent relationships, the project also supports young people to strengthen their livelihoods. Rather than telling young people what to do, or providing them with specific skills training for one job (such as weaving for instance), Stepping Stones and Creating Futures encourages young people to talk about their lives and together think through how things could change and the steps they can take.

Nompu was one of two hundred young women and men who during 2012 participated in a pilot study of Stepping Stones and Creating Futures.

Data from Nompu and other young women from this group found exceedingly high levels of intimate partner violence (IPV), indeed 40% of women interviewed reported experiencing IPV in the past year alone. While we do not know exactly what Nompu was earning, the women we interviewed earned, at the time, on average R174 (approximately US$17) in the past month and jobs were poorly paid, short-term and hard – linked to the high levels of unemployment in South Africa. Unlike two-thirds of women in our sample, Nompu did not have a child.

Men’s lives were little better. Men certainly earned more than women, but still an incredibly small amount of R411 ($40) per month on average. They had high levels of alcohol problems, around 42% of men reported having a drinking problem. In contexts of extreme alienation, but also in spaces where violence against women was acceptable, 45% of men reported perpetrating IPV in the past year, and 32% reported perpetrating non-partner sexual violence in the past year.

For Nompu the effect of being part of the project was profound. When we spoke to her three months after being part of the project she described its impact: “My short-term goals (following the intervention) were to invest money and I have done that. I took R100 (US$10) and went to Standard Bank and they have an investment programme. I invested and then I am looking for a job.” Nompu kept looking for a job, eventually securing one working at a restaurant when we spoke to her six months later. But it was not just her livelihood that improved, her relationship with her boyfriend also improved: “We no longer fight a lot. Many things changed. I think the cause of that was that we were both stressed as we were unemployed and we were always together.”

Nompu was not alone in seeing an impact of being part of Stepping Stones and Creating Futures. Overall, women and men reported that one year after the intervention their earnings had increased. Moreover, women and men reported more gender equitable attitudes, men reported being less controlling in relationships and being less depressed. Promisingly, women reported that they had experienced less physical and/or sexual IPV in the past three months than compared to their lives before they were involved.

On the eve of 16 Days of Activism of Violence Against Women, stories such as Nompu’s remind us that violence against women can be prevented through carefully designed and implemented interventions and specifically interventions that tackle both the gendered and economic drivers of violence against women.

But Nompu’s story is just one story. The launch of the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures intervention trial, funded by What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls (see http://www.whatworks.co.za), will allow us to assess properly whether this combination of gender transformation and livelihood strengthening can reduce women’s experiences of violence in challenging contexts of urban informal settlements in South Africa, and thus provide guidance for scale-up in similar contexts.

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