Getting to grips with gender realities

by Shelagh McLoughlin
9 August 2020
9 August 2020


These are extraordinary times for women in South Africa. Covid-19 and the economic crisis have compounded the challenges that women face. It is apt that at least two new initiatives by SaveAct should help its women members to develop pathways where they can find their place in the home and in society.


“When I grew up, I wasn’t allowed to question normality. This has been very thought-provoking and I will not take things for granted anymore.”

This was one of the comments made by a SaveAct staff member after attending virtual training on gender and power recently. It was a profound experience for many of the participants, but this was not surprising for the organisers, Daniela Gennrich and Jenny Bell. “We need to unlearn in order to learn more about gender. It’s so much part of our lives that we can’t see gender power dynamics at play,” says Bell.

Commissioned by SaveAct to help with integrating a gender perspective into the training of new savings groups, Bell and Gennrich are veterans in the gender consciousness arena. Bell is director of the NGO Justice and Women and Gennrich is co-ordinator of We Will Speak Out South Africa, a coalition against gender-based violence.

According to SaveAct’s executive director, Anton Krone, the training was necessary because the organisation works mainly with women and South African society is shaped by gender inequality. “It is really important to ground our work in a gendered perspective,” he says.

Programme Manager Nolufefe Nonjeke-Dlanjwa believes SaveAct should be “addressing the power dynamics within households and helping women to take charge and have a say in what pertains to them and their hard-earned resources. It has been there but we are definitely taking it to the next level where we want to facilitate discussions with savings groups members with a more focused gender lens.

“There is no way we can expect women to be able to confront historic gender stereotypes without being informed. We have to invest in capacitating our staff to be able to weave in a new way of thinking and doing things in the area of women emancipation,” says Nonjeke-Dlanjwa.

The training grew out of an initial brief to help with ensuring the our financial education modules are focused on helping savings group members to work through gender issues . Sponsored by the French Embassy, this was to be part of the financial education provided to new savings groups. It became apparent that it would be helpful for staff to develop a deeper  understanding of basic gender issues and how they relate to money so that they could begin to apply that knowledge to savings work.  Circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic, where staff were forced to work from home and most groups weren’t meeting, made this training possible.

Two workshops were held in June and July that looked first at basic concepts of gender and power, with participants reflecting on their lives and society in general. The next session was about facilitator training, where staff learnt how to use gender and power concepts in their training and mentoring of savings groups.

The first workshop raised some sensitive topics that participants responded to with candour and insight. On gender-based violence (GBV) one male participant shared how “as men, we bottle up the anger. When the time comes to let it out you do it on the person who is weak, such as your spouse or a child.  Or even another man.”

A woman staffer commented that “at the moment many of our children are growing up without father figures – and for girls this means you look for one in the wrong places. When a man mistreats you, you think this is what a father is meant to do.”

For some, the discussion raised uncomfortable feelings. One participant revealed that “the training took me back to my childhood – memories I didn’t want to go back to. I was taught to be submissive and I realize there is much that I need to unlearn. It makes me feel angry.”

For another participant, the few hours spent in the workshop were a revelation. “I have realised how little I knew about gender and how much I ignored gender issues on TV, radio, print media and in my own life because I grew up thinking they were not important,” he said.

During one of the sessions, Krone remarked on “the power of SGs as a space for change. That space needs to be actively worked with by SaveAct and partners.” Going forward, the gender practice work will continue to be a priority with input from Gennrich and Bell.

Bezant Chongo, a Gauteng advisor who is also involved in the project, says the focus in the next phase will be on adapting SaveAct’s  FE content to make it is more gender-sensitive to ensure that SG members are made aware of gender issues and rights, especially in the context of managing personal and household finances.

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