Saving in the time of Covid: a review of 2021

by Shelagh McLoughlin
10 December 2021
10 December 2021

More than half of South African women (51%) say they have experienced gender-based violence.

That figure should be a call to arms, but, given the constant flow of news about GBV atrocities in this country, awareness campaigns like Sixteen Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, which starts this week, can seem futile.

For SaveAct, with 90% of its members women, defeat is not an option. Despite challenges brought about by Covid, the organisation has persevered with an initiative to make gender power imbalances more of a focus in its work, and this is now expanding to more provinces.

Gender-based violence and the abuse of children are complex problems, with many different factors involved, including unequal gender power relations in most societies, cultural beliefs, individual psychology and economic realities.

SaveAct is particularly interested in the last factor, because it is directly related to what we do and how we can help women and children to be free of this scourge. Women who are poor have few options to escape from abusive relationships. However, if they can accumulate a bit of capital, they can begin to think about alternatives.

Our savings model is already designed to empower members by introducing them to the idea of moving forward and creating another life story. Through financial education they learn about managing and increasing money through saving. Learning how to do this is empowering and can build self confidence that is a crucial part of becoming independent.

This, however, is not enough. SaveAct wants to do more for its members, so two years ago, supported by the French Embassy and other donor partners, it began work on developing new modules in its financial education and savings group training that raise awareness about gender and power relations.

“This pilot has been running in some of our Gauteng and KZN groups for the last two years,” says SaveAct’s Executive Director, Anton Krone. “Although progress was hampered by Covid, we did a lot of virtual workshopping, plus some initial testing of the methodology, and there is a commitment to continue that process.

“This methodology attempts to open up a conversation about money, livelihood pathways and how women and men in households experience this. The aim is to help people to think more about the power relations around money and how this affects access to finances and decision making in the household,” says Krone.

The content also looks at how people can begin to map pathways towards more equitable power relations in the family and community. Krone says this kind of work must be approached carefully, especially in rural areas.

“One has to be very cautious around what is promoted and what is said, because ramifications can be costly. Women have the right to be free, but in practice their safety could be put at risk through some of these conversations, so our staff need to be very sensitive and facilitative, rather than deterministic about rights. It needs to be owned by the participants and shaped by what they are comfortable with.”

Krone says work with savings groups has revealed that there is underlying trauma and a need for professional engagement, and the organisation is looking at how to address this.

“We’ve found that there are some people who have deep pain that surfaces in meetings, and they have obviously had traumatic experiences. We need to look at how we can connect both the savings group member and the facilitator to professional support, to deal with those deeper traumas which we obviously can’t handle at a group level. Part of our challenge is to build that supportive ecosystem for people who have experienced such traumas.”

In the meantime, the pilot is being extended to more provinces. SaveAct recently began working with two new partners, Gender CC in North West and Choice in Limpopo and the pilot will be introduced in the groups that they are forming.

“SaveAct is fully behind the 16 Days campaign. We see it as a challenge to do something practical about fighting GBV and this is one more way we can do that,” says Krone.

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