by Nolwazi Ntini
As the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures intervention data collection draws to a close for the year, I would like to reflect on the experiences of some of the women who attended the intervention workshops. The intervention, funded by the What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls Global Programme via UKAID, sought to reduce intimate partner violence (IPV) and improve livelihoods amongst youth aged 18- 30 years living in urban informal settlements, in Durban, South Africa. By conducting participatory peer-led workshops, participants met twice a week and discussed different issues pertaining to their lives, under the guidance of the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures combined curriculum. Urban informal settlements are often characterized by high prevalence of violence. At baseline, 65% of women reported having experienced IPV in the past 12 months. This blog highlights reflections from conversations with women who attended the intervention and were part of the qualitative research.
When I asked women about their thoughts and feelings about participating in the intervention, they responded positively to the experience and shared their favorite and most memorable sessions. For instance, the mentioned “River of Grief” as a favourite yet, difficult session for the women, because it gave them an opportunity to share their life stories. The aim of this particular session was to assist participants to talk about past trauma and grief and the different ways to process feelings of loss. Through the narration of their experiences, participants were able to identify similarities between their own stories, and those of other women, making them feel less alone and isolated.
Another session women enjoyed was the “menstrual cycle”. Women found learning about how their bodies work, empowering, as for some they had typically learned this only in limited ways at school. For others, it was also important to learn about how to conceive children, which gave them some ability to start making decisions about their reproductive choices.
In addition to the topics discussed in the workshops, the women also always looked forward to attending sessions as it was something different from their daily routines. They described their typical days as uneventful; where they mainly did house chores, looked after family members and occasionally went out to look for work, with limited interaction with people who are not kin, close friends or partners. The chance to be somewhere where they did not have to invest a lot of personal effort or labour, and could engage with different people about topics of importance to them, was just as important as what they were ‘learning’.
The Stepping Stones and Creating Futures intervention provided an opportunity for the women to build, expand and strengthen their networks. However, the spaces convened were not always harmonious and problem free. In a context of socio-economic scarcity such as urban informal settlements, there was high competition for employment opportunities and intimate partners; such tensions and fights would often spill over into the workshops and therefore had to be resolved in them.
Despite the challenges, women claimed the only thing they would change about the intervention would be to add more sessions, as they felt the standard 21 sessions were not enough; or have more sessions but targeting different people in the communities, such as the elderly or young children. The sessions functioned in multiple ways for women, moving beyond simple learning spaces to ones where they could start to build social relationships, reduce isolation and start to think about their lives in different ways.
Nolwazi Ntini is an ethnographer and fieldwork co-ordinator within the Gender Equality and Health Programme, HEARD