Abuse destroys lives – and not only the lives of people who are abused, but of those connected to them as well. When a woman is abused by her partner, the entire family bears the wounds. People Opposing Women Abuse (Powa) was set up to help heal and restore these women.
Powa is a non-profit organisation (NPO) based in Johannesburg. Its purpose is to ensure the realisation of women’s rights by combating abuse and helping abused women with services and advocacy. Established in 1979 by a group of female volunteers to help others who suffered from domestic violence, it offered a shelter and counselling, along with legal services and support.
“We have national reach and presence through our telephonic counselling, advocacy, public awareness and sector strengthening work,” explains Nhlanhla Mokwena, the executive director.
The group is a member of Solidarity for African Women’s Rights, a network of 27 civil society organisations and development partners in Africa that promote and protect women’s human rights on the continent by lobbying and advocacy strategies to ensure the ratification, domestication and effective implementation of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
Powa’s direct services delivery component forms the basis of and informs all advocacy interventions, at local, national and regional level. Its strategic approach is designed to ensure that women in South Africa enjoy the freedoms and rights entrenched in the Constitution and guaranteed in international human rights commitments.
“We work to ensure that such rights are not only domesticated and implemented, but also understood and accessed by all women living in South Africa,” Mokwena says. “It is by engaging in both service provision and advocacy that makes Powa unique in the women’s rights sector in South Africa. Few organisations straddle both.”
From a start-up staff of 18 in 1979, the organisation has grown to 37 staff members and eight volunteers. It has seven physical working sites in Gauteng that provide counselling, places of shelter and legal support to women at face-to-face level.
EXPERT ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS
In 1981, Powa became the first group to establish a shelter for abused women. “Over the years we have become an organisation that is considered to be an expert on issues of women’s rights and are consulted by the private sector, the government and civil society on educational and decision-making matters pertaining to women’s safety and enjoyment of their rights.”
Almost two decades later, in 2009, it pioneered second stage, or transitional, housing for women in Gauteng.
“In order to achieve this, we have structured our organisation in a manner that allows us to engage with grassroots women’s groups and organisations in various provinces as well as engage and influence national institutional structures such as the legislature, regional forums such as the African Commission on People and Human Rights and international forums such as the Commission on the Status of Women,” Mokwena adds.
Donors include private sector companies like Avon, the international direct seller of beauty and related products, and it works with the departments of Health and Social Development, as well as the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund.
Powa has published six books written by women who have suffered domestic violence. They are used to help raise awareness and explain to other people what it is like to be abused, and how the lives of women are changed when they are able to leave the abusive situation. The books are also a Powa fundraising tool.