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Army of paralegals stand locked and loaded in fight against GBV

By Musawenkosi Cabe

Gender-based violence spiked during the Covid-19 lockdown.

When the world was struck by the deadly pandemic, numerous countries adopted strict stay-at-home regulations to contain the virus.

However, the regulations had the unintended consequence of increasing women and girls’ exposure to violence.

Joyce Chuene, 46, the project coordinator of the Standerton Victim Empowerment Centre, a community-based organisation in Mpumalanga, witnessed first-hand the increase in gender-based violence incidents.

Her organisation offers 24-hour emergency shelter to survivors of GBV and supports them in navigating the complex criminal justice system.

Strategic Implementing Partner (SIP) Hlanganisa is one of 28 civil society organisations contracted to disburse the Social Employment Fund (SEF) across rural and urban areas in South Africa.

Hlanganisa partnered with the Standerton Victim Empowerment Centre to recruit and train 84 women as paralegals. These Sisterhood Advocates were all previously unemployed women who now receive a monthly SEF stipend in exchange for the services they provide in their communities, such as advising and supporting GBV victims.

Overall, as a result of the SEF, Hlanganisa has trained 2,500 volunteers in the various communities that they serve across the country.

“Hlanganisa is actually a very intentional name – it means, convening,” explains Bongiwe Ndondo, chief executive officer of Hlanganisa.

Like many young people her age, Nompumelelo Thubakgale, 28, was unemployed for many years prior to 2021. She had volunteered with the Standerton Victim Empowerment Centre and relied on a social grant to support herself and her two children.

However, through the partnership between Hlanganisa and the Sisterhood Advocates programme, Thubakgale was recruited and trained as a Sisterhood Advocate.

“When you are being rewarded, you get inspiration to do your work with enthusiasm and passion,” says Thubakgale.

For many survivors of GBV, access to justice remains a pipe dream. Community paralegals, activists, and advocacy groups are all in agreement that navigating the criminal justice system is a part of the problem.

“A lot of cases don’t get reported. A lot of cases get withdrawn. A lot of women find the court process very intimidating,” explains Ndondo.

Pictured above: Joyce Chuene

Image source: Supplied