Vanita Daniels, Director at Rise Up Against Gender-Based Violence

“We were trying to teach young children about consent as a basis, this is my body, and I don’t consent to this. We can’t even begin to dismantle patriarchy if we can’t even have basic conversations with children, and children are amazing, absolutely amazing. And they have the tools and means to understand complex things, but we just need it simplified for them.”

Moderator: Tian Johnson

Complied by Vivienne Naidoo 


Webinar Recordings & Supplementary Materials


Vanita Daniels joined Rise Up as a Director in April 2019, and since joining, she has become an invaluable member of the team. Her areas of expertise include Total Quality Management, Organisational Development, and a wealth of experience in developing grassroots community-based organisations. She has been an activist for over 20 years, championing women’s rights, gender non-conforming individuals and youth in various spaces ranging from community development, training, the union movement, International Labour Solidarity and the fight against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.


*This section contains a transcribed account of the Question-and-Answer Session*

The argument was that because the National Strategic Plan for GBV (NSP for GBV) will be strategic and come with an implementation plan and a budget, it will give us the best chance to impact. So can you share some of your thoughts on number one, where we are at the moment? And do you think that such a plan in its current formation where it’s currently situated politically as well – Should we be rallying behind this plan and giving it everything we’ve got? Or have we perhaps gotten this one spectacularly wrong yet again?

That’s a loaded question. As Rise Up, we were part of the Sandton Shutdown, part Total Shutdown, part of Call to Action, which, you know, called for something for government to do in terms of this crisis. And the NSP was one of those. So we support the idea of an NSP broadly. In its current form, there have been challenges, particularly with I think it was the trust that needed to be set up etc. and actually, and we called for the government to stop that process. We felt that it wasn’t the correct way to do things. As Rise Up, we put a call to action that ran a twelve-week online sort of workshop around the NSP regarding how it started.

What was our involvement? What does it mean to the various pillars, etc.? The thing, for us, is, we need to be practical. And that has been one of the significant gaps. Money is not the problem. It’s in terms of how we allocate those resources and allocate those people. And so you find that, for instance, when there was a 1.6 billion Rand made available, organisations had to apply. And so what happens in that process, particularly because of how the application process was structured, a lot of organisations that work on the ground, and that provide direct support, and do amazing work, was unable to apply, because government processes make it extremely difficult for certain organisations to do the work that they want to do or can do without the funding that they need. That is our position in terms of the NSP; it needs to be practical. You are right; it’s debatable in terms of, you know, how effective these plans are because one of the things that we have in this country is we have beautiful policies and beautiful plans, and then we make a big hoo-ha about releasing and presenting it to the world. But when it comes to implementation, that’s where we fall short. And so, we need to look at all of the various components in the system. So if we look at the shelter system, what kind of support do we need? If you look at the Thuthuzela Care Centres,  what is the support that we need? If we look at court support, the criminal justice system, except we have horrendously low rates of prosecution, nevermind prosecution, even just cases that go to court, we victimise the survivors and the victims, that we leave revictimising them through the court system. I don’t want to sound as if I am defeated, but it is a lot of work that needs to be done. Everybody talks about gender-based violence, and we’re ending 16 days of activism. And so we have this kind of yearly sort of trope where everybody lines up, and we do the same thing over and over. And our numbers keep rising. So obviously, we’re not doing something right.  As an organisation, we just came back from doing tavern dialogues, which we’ve done in Gauteng and the Western Cape, at the GBV hotspots. And even those should be the hotspots in inverted commas because of how those hotspots are identified. At times it was extremely challenging having the conversation with men around GBV. But there’s so much work that needs to be done. And we can have as many NSPs as we want. But if we’re not going to change the behaviour and the mindset of perpetrators and survivors and victims, we’re not going to make a difference. That’s what I feel.

I really appreciate your reflections, especially on the tavern programme, which certainly caught my interest when I saw it, and apart from the great pictures on Facebook, I was particularly interested in seeing the responses from activists to and from some sectors of civil society, it struck me as interesting, to be really diplomatic. Where have we gone wrong? I think if I won the lottery, I would immediately put some of that money into literally zero to five-year-old boys. We have to be looking at zero to five.

The tavern dialogues were interesting things for me because we did get a lot of flack from activists, and within our sector, there were mixed responses. One of the very interesting things for me, and I still need to grapple and work through my thoughts and pen this because I just don’t have all of the words to describe what I saw. But so we constantly have this idea that men and boys have what we call locker room conversations, right? And so we need to get into this conversation so that, you know, we can reflect directing kind of thing. And the interesting thing for me, with all of the conversations, was how shocked the men in the room were when men would say things that we know, as activists in the space they say to us all the time, you know, and as victims and survivors, they say that to us all the time. And so other men were utterly shocked. They were like, dude, you can’t do that. You are a rapist. We did  20 dialogues. But it shows to me that the locker room conversations that we think men are having are not the locker room conversations they are having because they’re not having hard conversations. For instance, one of the topics that we discuss is … And how men responded, it was such a mixed bag like they were mainly like, no, that’s rape and then other men like No, that can’t be rape. We would have long debates and conversations about it.

The way we structured the conversations is that the men would be talking to each other. We did very little talking. We just structured the topics and things like that and moved the dialogue in a certain direction regarding the things we wanted to address. And so I have this thing where I talk about palatable victims and survivors and sort of palatable perpetrators. And so we have this, so for instance, when we say things like real men don’t rape, okay, I was raped by a fake man? So you know, those problematic statements like, so what does it mean to be a man? Do we even have to use those terms because still, we have all of these binary conversations around men and women? That was quite enlightening to see when the light went on in somebody’s eyes because of the engagement that they were having with their peers. We’ve spoken about this Mandisa and I because we’ve got quite a bit of data as well, and we are also doing some monitoring and evaluation. How do we structure programmes that deal particularly with men and boys that will give us the kind of message we need? Because there were men who spoke, and we had three-hour dialogues at each tavern. And there were some moments where we spent five hours because the men would not let us leave because they kept talking and talking and talking and talking. And so there is definitely a need for this kind of work. But you’re right in terms of how we structure those engagements actually to give us the kind of results we need? One of the most interesting things for me was how men just refused to connect the dots by large. Like they recognise their behaviour, but they don’t realise that their behaviour leads to these things. So we have a discussion, we discuss patriarchal norms, for instance, but we don’t use that terminology. So we discuss gender roles, but we just asked them, like, what do you do in the house? What do you do in society, and then we talk about what do woman do, etcetera? Without fail, men have this opinion that women are currently ruling everything. Women have so many rights. Women are just getting everything, and they are now the victims. We have a male facilitator who does that where we try and connect the dots. And so he asks the question after we’ve gone through this entire process, where men are like, women get everything, women are the best thing since sliced white bread, etc. And then he says, Okay, so we all agree that women have it good, right men are being victimised, and it’s a horrible thing to be men right now. So tomorrow, if you die and get a chance to come back, will you come back as a woman? No, no, never! Okay, but how do you say woman have it so good? So we’re just like, okay, but you see, this is happening, right? But it was, it was good. Honestly, I felt there was some time when I felt a lot of empathy for men. Because patriarchy is really giving men a hard deal, especially now during COVID, many men cannot be providers. And so that has been one of the main issues that came up in our dialogues that my partner’s not treating me like a man, I’m like a second class citizen in my house because I haven’t been able to provide and be like, yes, but you structured your entire manhood around, I am the provider. And so this is the result of you been there. So if you can’t provide, and this is who you say you are, then what are you? So it was quite interesting. I think we’re going to continue though it was very, very, very hard.

We had some harrowing incidents. But it’s also an interesting demographic. Men are very different from the Western Cape to Gauteng. In Gauteng, there were quite a bit of men trying to engage with us. You know, kind of sweetie pie this and sweetie pie. In the Western Cape, not so much. But there was a lot more anger in the Western Cape from the men. They’re very, very, very angry. In Gauteng, not so much anger as the flirting and trying to grab us and things like that, which we knew was going to happen. They had to protect me a little bit because older men singled me out. It was the most amazing thing—the oldest of old men.

Where would you put that money in terms of maybe even going beyond engaging and just dealing with the issues of men and boys?

I would agree with you about the age group, like zero to five, and you know, kind of focus there. But it’s such a multifaceted problem that needs to be addressed because it’s a societal problem. I’m going to say something that’s probably going to get me into trouble. But we need to do a lot of work with women as well. I’m trying to grapple through my thoughts so that I don’t say really horrible things. Honestly, from the engagements that we’ve had, I honestly feel that we cannot stop having those engagements. One of the reasons people are such activists in the space and society in general, kind of have this idea that we’ve been working with men and think what? What’s behind that is that men, by and large, are the perpetrators. There’s no acknowledgement of the problem by men. Because when we talk about real men don’t, when we talk about when men talk about our woman we need to protect, and they don’t see a problem with that.

When you ask them questions, like, okay, if it’s not your mother, aunt, sister, or daughter? So I can just be raped? Or I can only be beaten up because I don’t belong to you?  And so, we need to really try and unpack patriarchy because that’s where the root cause of this problem is. And it’s a massive thing that we need to dismantle patriarchy. And so, where do we start? And honestly, I feel like these are things that we need to incorporate into our education system. But that is such a minefield, I mean, trying to do, Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). And then, people lost their minds. We were trying to teach young children about consent as a basis, this is my body, and I don’t consent to this. We can’t even begin to dismantle patriarchy if we can’t even have basic conversations with children, and children are amazing, absolutely amazing. And they have the tools and means to understand complex things, but we just need it simplified for them. And so you can have discussions around patriarchy with children, and I think that we need to start there. And so, I don’t want to say okay, well, I’m just going to give up on everybody older than seven. Because I was very heartened by the engagements and the feedback that we received from men. And we had one tavern dialogue where a gentleman was talking about his partner abusing him. And he showed us that she was stabbing him, he showed all of his marks and, he was crying in the session, and his friends laughed at him. And so we stopped the dialogue, and we’re like, but all of you were talking about how you don’t have an opportunity to vent, you don’t have spaces where you can talk and here is your friend being vulnerable and saying to you that I am being hurt. I’m in pain, and I need help. And your response is to laugh at him. But you are the same person when you go to the police station, and you want to report your girlfriend beating you say the police laugh at you and you have a problem with it. But you are the one laughing at your friend. We don’t do that. And so we discussed that. And the saddest thing because we’ve created WhatsApp groups for each tavern, so we have discussions and engagements with them post the tavern dialogue. And his girlfriend killed him three weeks later. And it was so sad when we when the the the men in the group were talking about it. The one gentleman said, I honestly feel bad because I was one of the guys laughing at him. And I should have been offering help. They had a conversation like, guys, we need to help each other we need to be there for each other. If you feel if you have a problem, you must talk. So it’s very heartening that once you’ve given men that space to speak because it’s important to vent, it’s important to let out what’s inside, so that other people know, but I’m hurting, and I need help. And so they are starting to create those spaces themselves. And I think that is something that we can focus on. Sometimes a lot of the conversations with men is about managing their anger. And I think that is a problematic conversation to have. Because we need to talk about why are you angry? And not when you are angry? What do you do? Often, the conversation is don’t hit, don’t abuse, instead go and have a drink, or those kinds of things. But what you want to know is – why are you angry that your girlfriend didn’t cook food for you? That’s the conversation that we should be having. And that’s when we start dismantling these societal norms, patriarchal norms.  We have some work that needs to be done with women as well because women are patriarchates too. Because the system won’t survive unless those who are being oppressed help it, you know, so, yeah, I’m not going to get into trouble for that.

What has Rise Up’s experience been in interacting with the Solidarity Fund to support the work you do?

We haven’t had any direct interaction with the Solidarity Fund. We saw the calls for funding etc. But I think it was more a question for us, or the conversation is more around, how do these funds fund? And what do they fund? And how that funding gets released? For instance, one of the problems we had was that we received some funding to provide direct food aid and health services to undocumented migrants in the Central Business District (CBD). The funder wanted all sorts of proof etc. They were insisting on registers, etc. When we did the distribution, some of the funder staff were there, and they saw how dangerous it was the requirements that they had put out, particularly around the registers. And so I think it’s a broader question that must be had not just around Solidarity Fund, but around funders in general, in terms of how they fund organisations such as ourselves and other organisations as well.

Rise Up did not apply for funding from the Solidarity Fund. Also, some of the funders, I’m not going to mention any names, but you honestly feel like they want blood, sweat, tears, DNA, you know, and the list just goes on. The administrative procedures are so onerous for smaller grassroots organisations who really need help. And so I think it’s because we haven’t had an engagement with Solidarity Funds; I can’t speak to the funding in particular. For instance, court support, there’s not a lot of funding for that. And that is a long process. People need all sorts of support when they go through the criminal justice system, trying to get justice. And so when it’s big cases, yay, everybody is out there on the day. There are 20 court appearances, but you know it keeps being postponed, or it can drag on for years. And you find that along the way, because people can’t support it, they need to take off work to be at court all day to support a survivor, and who’s going to pay my salary etc. And so organisations like that need a particular focus when they are provided with funding. Because how do I account for the kind of support that I’m giving, which costs money? We had discussions with some funders, and I think during COVID, many funders were trying to look at themselves in terms of how we change to accommodate organisations? I hope that there will be changes. But you know, one never knows.  I don’t know of any organisations that have informed us that they did get funding from the Solidarity Fund. But I know the small, first one that closed, I think on the 18th of November. It was quite an easy process, a two page or something, but it wasn’t a lot of money. It was like a two-pager that you had to complete, etc. So I think that maybe they are trying to make it a little bit easier.

What is in store for 2021 when it comes to continuing the progressive work you are doing in GBV in the context of COVID?

So for Rise Up, we added services, like we didn’t have enough work. So the evacuation service is now going to be an actual service that we provide. So we’ve gone out actively trying to get funding for that because there’s quite a bit of work that needs to be done around that particular service, especially around safety etc. Because it is very dangerous. Early on during lockdown, a SAPS official was killed in Sandton when they responded to a domestic violence call. And so, for Rise for 2021, we are going to be honing our evacuation service. And we are trying to start rolling it out in other provinces as well. So we are looking for partners to do that work.

Then, we are trying to do quite a bit more work with our demographic. We have what we call our Dignity Village, or Village of Dignity, that we try to create around the woman and Global Nutrition Cluster GNC folks. Because one of the things that people don’t understand about this particular demographic is nothing is easy. When you say get a job, okay, I don’t have an ID, number one. Number two, I don’t have a cell phone, nobody can contact me; I don’t have an address. How would you like me to get a job? Dirty, I can’t, I haven’t been able to get the hair cut, I can’t go to the hairdresser and do my hair and look presentable to walk in and have an interview, and how do people contact me? So nothing is easy. This Village of Dignity that we are trying to create around this particular demographic looks at dealing with all aspects, ensuring that they have the correct documentation, rehab facilities and services, and counselling because living on the street is hard. And you’re not going to be able to do that without some sort of drugs or alcohol or some substance that’s going to numb you to your circumstances. And so the Village of Dignity is looking at all of that. This is our strategic vision for the next three to five years to create that Village of Dignity.

We’ve already started. We’ve got some funding for programs to run in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) and Gauteng. Just a small part of the village that we are creating. But we’re hoping that we’re going to be able to develop a plan that other organisations, other countries can also implement, and it works. We’re going to be focusing on 2021 as it relates to COVID. We’ve added services,  but our work itself hasn’t changed that much for the most part. Because we can do quite a bit of work from home, etc. So we’re weren’t too touched or affected by that. It’s just time to make sure that we keep doing what we are doing and trying to do it better.

I have a particular problem with this returning to normal because normal wasn’t that great to start with. I’m a bit concerned about that. But I also know that people are tired. I’m tired. People are just tired. We’re tired of COVID; we are tired of people dying, we tired of not living full lives because even though I didn’t spend that much time with other people. The fact that I could not spend any time with anybody affected me. I was like, Oh my word. I thought I was some sort of recluse, and now I realised I do like spending time with other people. And so it’s made us think, I hope as people in our society in terms of the value of these relationships that we develop, whether they be platonic or not. Work relationships, what does work look like now these days, and what is it supposed to look like? I’m glad that I’ve always been a proponent for flexible working and working from home and all of those things. I’m glad that one of the things that the pandemic did was show organisations that this is possible if you give people the tools to do that and still be productive. And even more so, sitting two hours in traffic and then getting to the office and spending eight hours standing sitting, another two hours in traffic getting home. So yeah, I’m hoping we’ll return to some sort of life where we can live it fuller. I don’t want normal because normal wasn’t that great. And we need to look at how do we change our society? But I don’t think that there’s much political will for that to happen.