Supporting women through community engagement

​As part of women’s month, the University Relations Division hosted the UJ Women in Community Engagement Empowerment webinar. Held on Tuesday August 31, 2021, the discussion focused on women pushing back the frontiers of poverty in the Covid-19 era and beyond through community engagement initiatives.

Speaking on the importance of community engagement, Prof Shahana Rasool, Professor in Social Work at UJ, said while addressing poverty from a social development perspective was critical, she urged the speakers to also look at the issues of inequality.

“We cannot look at poverty without looking at inequality. These are often two different sides of the same coin. Often our poverty reduction strategies are not sustainable enough. Finding strategies that not only push the frontiers of poverty but also inequality is critical in a context like South Africa.”

Prof Rasool added that poverty and inequality in South Africa had specific race and gender dimensions and that black women in particular were the poorest in usually female-headed households.

Moreover, women are often responsible for care work not just in the household but in their communities and this often went unpaid.

Founder of youth run non-profit Mihandzu Learning, Ms Khanya Memela, shared how her organisation has been managing through Covid-19.

While many organisations were unable to push through the pandemic, Mihanzu stayed afloat despite the hard lock down. The challenge they experienced came when their feeding scheme had to come to a halt. A lot of parents were struggling to ensure that their children were eating effectively every day. Memela’s organisation started a food parcel campaign and worked towards upskilling parents on how they can further assist their children while at home by distributing learning packs and food parcels.

The organisation focuses on the improvement of Mathematics and ICT skills through robotics for learners in impoverished regions. Memela’s organisation has serviced over 2500 high school learners since its inception in 2016.

Ms Thato Mokhuto, chairperson of the Miriam Makeba Centre for Girls, wears many hats including involvement in the construction and automotive industries.

Mokhuto said women needed to take a stand and lead by example for younger women but also needed to take care of themselves because they already do so much.

“While we try to prove a point that we can also do what men can do, we tend to forget about ourselves and run on an empty cup.”

Guest Speaker Prof. Tanusha Raniga, Professor in Social Work at UJ said countries had instituted many social protection systems in response to the global economic downturn. Her presentation examined the status of women’s roles as informal traders in the informal economy.

She said women have been compelled to initiate entrepreneurship or business projects to supplement monthly cash transfers received from the state.

In South Africa, over the past decade, more than 50% of unemployed women have entered the informal economy through starting their own businesses. However, despite this, financial institutions in the private sector continue to exclude women from access to microloans and credit which is an obstacle to the long term sustainability of small businesses.

“It is imperative that social workers, policy makers and gender activists lobby for access to micro-loans for single mothers who engage in work in the informal economy. Not enough attention is being paid to women who are entrepreneurs in the informal economy. More social protection measures should be put into place by government for them. More so in the Covid-19 era which has perpetuated the health and economic crisis.”


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