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The Right to Dignity and Equality - Interviews

Interviewing women farm workers

Maggie's Story

maggie.jpgMaggie is a seasonal farm worker who lived with her partner, also a farm worker, on a farm in Rawsonville. One morning in 2008, after her partner had left for work, she asked the farmer for a loan of R20. He refused and she returned to her house on the farm, where she started doing domestic chores. While Maggie was making the bed, the farmer entered her house without knocking, walked straight to the bedroom and raped her. On leaving the house, he left a R20 note on the kitchen table. When Maggie went to the local police station to lay a charge, the police actively discouraged her from pursuing the case, telling her that Pieter was a happily married man and she could ruin his life. In fact, the farmer had long-standing notoriety among female farm workers for his persistent sexual harassment, including touching and fondling them. (Source: WFP case work)

INTERVIEW: GLYNIS RHODES, WFP PROJECT MANAGER

Glynis Rhodes, project manager of the November 2011 Rights Education Campaign, said she thought the project was successful in its aim – to ensure women's safety, by educating the public as well as farmwomen about legislative processes in the Sexual Offences Act as well as the Domestic Violence Act. The idea was to make women aware of the effects of gender-based violence on their lives and that it is possible to take action to combat this.

"The project also aimed to facilitate discussion about creating workable strategies for women's rights. Sometimes, even if women are aware of their rights, fear of further victimisation prevents women who have been attacked from seeking legal recourse. The idea of fighting back against the shocking abuse and violence in the communities targeted by this project was overwhelming, and emotional."

Rhodes said that one of the most moving stories that emerged during the campaign was about a farmwoman in the Overberg (Western Cape), who learned for the first time that she could take out an interdict against her husband who was beating their three year -old daughter. "There was a great deal of activity in the town when the WFP Health Team distributed pamphlets with information about the Sexual Offences Act . They don't just hand out the pamphlets. They encourage the farmwomen to ask questions. Each interaction takes about half an hour, at least. There was a lot of discuss ion; in the case of the farmwoman in the Overberg, who was advised to take out an interdict, her mother also became involved."

This does not always mean there is instant success. In fact, said Rhodes, the woman did not agree to act immediately. She said she wanted to think about what she had learned. "However, we heard that the next day she went to the police station. An officer promised to get a form for her to fill in her mother tongue, Afrikaans, so that she could charge her husband with child abuse. Many women like the idea that there are women in the community who can stand up for themselves."