24 August 2011
In an attempt to build bridges between local and foreign women, the City of Johannesburg and the Department of Home Affairs recently held a women’s dialogue where issues of xenophobia and language difficulties were tackled.
Held at Diepkloof Welfare Centre on 19 August, the theme of the dialogue was “Working together to enhance women’s opportunities to economic empowerment”. It was open to local women and foreign migrants living in Joburg.
From Joburg, the member of the mayoral committee for health and human development, Nonceba Molwele, was there to spend the day with migrant women from various countries, such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Angola and Somalia.
Breaking down barriers
According to Molwele, the dialogue was held to seek to break down the barriers that kept migrant and local women from connecting. These barriers were language difficulties, xenophobic community attitudes, fears about immigration or residency status, and physical and cultural isolation.
She said the dialogue was the first of its nature. “It is indeed a great initiative by our deputy minister that should not stop here but should be a start to an ongoing plan that will lead to concrete a joint programme that addresses the challenges of women as a whole.”
August was chosen for the dialogue as the month was dedicated to honouring and celebrating the courage, tenacity, resilience and victory over adversity of women in South Africa, she explained.
“Migration has always been a human rights issue throughout human existence, and Joburg has been a destination point for migrant communities since 1886.
“In recognition of the challenges that are brought by human motilities, the City of Joburg has over the past 10 years been actively engaged in the pursuit of finding creative and sustainable responses to this phenomenon,” said Molwele.
Sharing experiences as women
Issues raised by migrant women at the dialogue included being mistreated at health institutions and being called nasty names by South Africans in public transport because of language barriers.
Women, who came dressed in their traditional clothes, showcased traditional dances and explained their cultures to each other.
The deputy minister of home affairs, Fatima Chohan, who spent the day listening to the women’s queries, urged them to unite despite racial, ethnic and cultural differences. “We are here to share our experiences as women and by coming together we can come up with the solution to what is bothering us as women,” she said.
“If women can join hands, exchange ideas, then we will have a community that is at peace with itself.”
By joining hands, women could achieve much more. “We want to create this opportunity for women from different parts of our continent to talk to each other so they develop friendships,” she added.
Rebecca Khamba, who comes from Congo, was one of about 300 women at the meeting. She said the programme was a good initiative.
“I would like to thank the City of Joburg for giving us a chance to join hands and create unity with our South African sisters. I hope most South Africans will understand why we are here and stop calling us names and mistreating us in public places,” she said.
Source: City of Johannesburg