Saturday, November 21, 2009

South Africa Memories

(picture of Theaster Gates, recently performing some of his spoken word in Chicago, IL. Theaster studied at the University of Cape Town many years ago before I visited in 1994. I dedicate my memories of South Africa to him and all the black Americans whose curiosity, intellect, love interests,sense of service and varied motivations prompted them to travel to South Africa. I believe we have all been touched by this powerful example of individual and social transformation.

In my small apartment I have a huge box of papers that I have dragged around since my visit to South Africa in 1994. The voices of the people that I talked with; the women whose stories I have held with the intention of sharing them. I have not been able to bring myself to discard this box of memories. It is time to tell these stories. So the purpose of this post and future ones is to empty out my box and bring it all together to honor that experience and bring some closure to that part of my life once and for all as the year concludes and new phases unfold in my life.

In the Beginning
Over the past twenty plus years gender-based violence has been the focus of my research and career interests. Initially I worked as a social worker in direct services, including counseling battered women and children and conducting separate groups for women and batterers, transitioning to administrative positions and eventually directing the Family Violence Program for the State of Georgia. I was personally motivated to understand family violence, an issue that afflicted my own family, as it does so many others. I continued my personal activism and education as a social worker over the years and pursued additional degrees in Africana Women’s Studies and Religious Studies. I was ordained as a Unitarian Universalist community minister in 2007 which reflects my wholistic approach to serving body, mind and spirit. My membership in national and international organizations is indicative of my interdisciplinary and global perspectives that have been influenced by the Africana Women’s Studies Department at Clark Atlanta University and the Center for Women’s Global leadership Institute.

In the summer of 1991 I attended the Institute where our key contribution as a global “think tank” was reconceptualizing the issue of violence against women as a human rights issue. That campaign has been carried and translated all around the world. I later wrote an essay titled, Reconceptualizing Violence Against Women as a Development Issue that was published by the Association on Women’s Rights in Development Newsletter and appears on the website of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. Grants from the United States State Department and Rockefeller Foundation allowed me to conduct six months of field research on gender-based violence in Ghana in 1996. I conducted focus groups and researched culturally specific forms of gender-based violence, including, trokosi, female circumcision, child brides and widow rites. In addition, I prepared the women’s section for the United States State Departments “Country Report” highlighting the status of women in Ghana with a focus on the joint efforts between the Embassy and NGO’s to eradicate trokosi and female circumcision.

My research and teaching interests include women in development, Africana Women’s Studies, liberation theology, gender based violence and postcolonial feminist theory and social change movements. All of my academic interests are practitioner based focusing on the real and lived experience of women. Writing from the particular standpoint of a black female scholar and activist that came to voice during the
1970s, my research on violence against women in South Africa has drawn on several conceptual frameworks, including feminist/womanist theory, postcolonial feminist and social movement theory. I have delivered many lectures and presentations on the basis of my field research in South Africa in 1994. Born in 1948, the year that apartheid came to power, I have grown up with, worked and prayed, for and finally witnessed the dismantling of apartheid.

Violence against women has captured prominent attention on women’s global agendas as a result of the pervasive gender-based violence. The movement to end violence against women in South Africa and the advocacy efforts that shifted the issue of woman abuse from a feminist/womanist agenda to a public policy agenda in the Republic of South Africa from 1994 to present times is still an interest of mine. I have been exposed to some of the pioneer work of South African scholars such as Desiree Hanson, Amina Mama, Matshilo Motsei and Anna F. Steyn.

Some of the foci of my research interests are: 1) the evolution of the movement to end violence against women between the years 1994 (when I was last there) to present times; 2) the reform of the criminal justice system’s approach to woman abuse; and 3) the role of race and culture in woman abuse in South Africa. The three conceptual frameworks that I think are most helpful in undersanding woman abuse in South Africa are: feminist/woman theory, postcolonial feminist theory and social movement theory. Because this is a complex problem requiring multiple approaches, I believe it requires the breath offered by these three conceptual frameworks. The intersection of these theories, situated within the context of a post colonial contemporary nation-state like South Africa, effectively interrogates the study of women’s conditions and thus provides a more comprehensive framework to examine and understand the relationship of women to the state, gender relations and the social movements that challenge prevailing social norms. I draw on my earlier research conducted on violence against women in South Africa, and compare and contrast the progress or lack of same between the years 1994 and 2008.

My goal should I be able to return to South Africa one day is to obtain primary and secondary sources, including archival and documentary materials, organizational files, newspapers, journal articles and research reports to update my existing research. It is my intention to write essays for to the Journal of Pastoral Theology, and the Oxford University Press Journal, housed in the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Johannesburg, I expect to finalize a monograph that I have almost completed. This would allow me to give voice to women whose stories I have carried around for twenty five fifteen years. The completion of this important research can potentially make a contribution to the growing body of scholarship on violence against women in South Africa. What I offer is my personal, professional-practitioner and academic experiences which have enabled me to compile a unique syllabus exploring the diverse forms of gender-based violence from the perspective of a non-traditional scholar activist.

And so this work begins with this first post.

Question: Whatgift have you been procrastinating on that is waiting to be offered to the world? What unique story can only you share with the world? What would it take to help free that gift?

Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah

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