Feast of ideas flows from Women Deliver 2023

26 July 2023: Grantees from the Voice and Choice Southern Africa Fund (VCSAF) wept as survivors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) shared their stories at the Women Deliver 2023 conference. So harrowing were these tales that even the interpreter could not continue with her work.  In their everyday work, VCSAFund grantees work on gender based violence. But FGM is not as common in southern Africa as it is in east and west Africa. Being at the Women Deliver Conference with 6300 delegates from all over the world opened many new insights for this group, and equipped them with new skills and resolve as they return to their bases in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Lesotho.

“I am not emotional but I cried,” said Carren Liando from Phola, a Johannesburg NGO that has developed a unique methodology to help survivors of GBV reclaim their agency. During the conference, she participated in several sessions on the impact of GBV on mental health.

The VCSAF is managed by Gender Links, a Southern African Women’s Rights Organisation, on behalf of Amplify Change, a UK-based fund to “end the silence” on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). One of the panels at Women Deliver concerned “shifting the power” in grant making from the global north to the global south. GL Special Advisor Colleen Lowe Morna shared how GL opened a Grant Making Unit after a funding crisis in 2017 that led to global advocacy for funding WRO that are “too small for the big funds, and too big for the small funds.” Global Affairs Canada heeded the call in 2019, inviting GL to manage its Women Voice and Leadership South Africa fund in 2019. Amplify Change put out a call for partners to manage its funds in 2020. GL, a former AC grantee, became a funding partner in Southern Africa. The VCSAF comprises 38 grantees in eight SADC countries.

In April 2023, as part of a comprehensive capacity building plan for grantees, GL offered week-long communications training for the VCSAF. The training included a challenge for teams across countries to plan and run SRHR campaigns in the different thematic areas that they work on including adolescent sexual and reproductive health; menstrual health; GBV and LGBTQIA. The winning team (GBV) got to go to the Women Deliver conference held in Kigali, Rwanda, from 17-21 July 2023.  Thenjiwe Ngcobo from Incema in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, applied for a passport for the first time. Mathapelo Rammole from YWCA Lesotho shook with emotion as she recalled getting on an aeroplane and holding a US dollar note for the first time.

The trip was a first of its kind to Rwanda for all the participants. They left with heart-warming memories of the beautiful landscape, spotlessly clean streets,  and warm people if not of Air Rwanda that cancelled the Zimbabwe flights twice and arrived in Johannesburg with no luggage for any of the passengers!

GL prepared the participants for the highs and lows of travel through a needs assessment and a series of webinars. Each individual downloaded the Women Deliver ap and planned their schedule for the four days. They will all be contributing blogs and vlogs based on the menu they selected. During the team debrief at the end of the conference, Ngcobo said the conference felt like “a buffet with a lot on the table.  Everything was appetising. I wanted to try it all, but ofcourse I could not.”  So, like others in the team, “I had to be strategic” choosing a few tracks that had maximum synergy with the work of her NGO that focuses on childhood experiences of violence and its later impact.

Khensani Mabasa from Life Savers Foundation in Limpopo, South Africa, embodied the spirit of “Women Deliver”, refusing to allow being six months pregnant to slow her down. Her highlights included meeting Women Deliver Chair and former South African Vice President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. also former executive director of UNWomen. Mlambo-Ngcuka  now heads the Umlambo Foundation promoting girls education. Mabasa and Mlambo-Ngcuka agreed to work together in the remote Bembe district of Limpopo. She also savoured meeting a new friend from New Zealand on the flight to Rwanda: “we talked for the whole four hours,” she said. Indeed, a stranger is a friend you have never met!

Tinotenda Matenda from Roots Africa in Zimbabwe felt the “weight of responsibility” from his team back home who expected him to “deliver results”. Each time he made a new contact, he set up a virtual meeting with his director, making sure that every conversation created meaningful new linkages. He also made his voice heard in the youth space, declaring that “young people are partners, not beneficiaries.. we are not a consultation factory; we are the future.” He left inspired by an almost paperless conference, with registration done in minutes using QR codes.

Luckson Bashoma from Matabeleland Aids Council in Zimbabwe has a degree in environmental science and followed the climate justice track during the conference. He is interested in the nexus between gender; climate and SRHR justice. As one of the two young men on the team, he also took an interest in the men at the conference. He will contribute a blog on what men need to deliver – watch this space!

For all the grantees, Women Deliver offered the opportunity to meet current and prospective funders. The VCSAFund grantees spent time at the AmplifyChange booth in the Kivu tent, networking with the Chair of the AmplifyChange Board Narmeen Hamid.  Latanya Mapp Frett President and CEO of Global Fund for Women met individually with grantees and offered valuable advice: always talk about your work first, then about money! Leonora Tima, Director of Kwanele in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, worked the donor circuit, collecting business cards and becoming “known.” This start-up NGO recently won an award in San Francisco for an ap to use AI in reporting cases of GBV.  “What you want in the end is that if there is a list of 20,000 your name stands out!”  Indeed, no coincidence that some of the grantees who had applied for funds from the GFW and heard nothing started to get responses during the four days!

Mary Chigumira, director of Unlimited Hope Alliance Trust, a Zimbabwean NGO, followed the child marriages track. The elder of the group, she summed up the experience of the team with this reflection: “Women Deliver taught me to claim my space and be visible.. you put us on the map, we are not young, we are not small, we are empowered.”  Amen!

(Colleen Lowe Morna is Special Advisor to the GL Sustainability Hub, that includes a Grant Making unit managing three funds: Voice and Choice Southern Africa; Women Voice and Leadership as well as the Women on the South Speak Out).  

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