At the coalface of change, listening to what women want and need, is Marthe Muller, chief operations officer for South African Women in Dialogue.
Ms Muller delivered a riveting speech at the Novalis Ubuntu Institute on Wednesday August 17, at their Dynamic African Women Now (DAWN) event.
She shared eloquently what she has heard over the past 13 years of listening, issued a clarion call for vital change to address the unseen consequences of domestic abuse, and gave a fascinating idea about the way to use technology to follow our spirits.
She speaks as a professional, but is engaged in doing all she can to create healthy progress, because she is also a mother.
“I am a scribe, tasked since 2003 with the recording of the voices of thousands of South African women,” she said.
“In the role of volunteer scribe, I participated in recording the voices of the almost 1 000 women attending the first South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID) forum at the University of Pretoria in July 2003, noting their plea that they were still too poor to participate meaningfully in the new democratic dispensation in their country.”
Ms Muller has also drafted trustees’ minutes of SAWID for more than 10 years, and SAWID, in partnership with the International Women’s Forum of SA (IWFSA).
She gathered the voices, perspectives and priorities of grassroots women for the National Development Plan of South Africa in 2011 and 2012, ensuring that these voices were strengthened through commissioned research by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) on the best practices in solving challenges and priorities – which included poverty eradication and reduction of violence against women – and has published as an evidenced-based research study and civil society Programme of Action for the African Women’s Decade.
What women say
Some of the major issues Ms Muller reports being raised revolve around personal and societal healing and reconciliation.
Women want courses on social sustainability, they want to learn an inclusive macro-economic framework that turns their pre-sently unpaid care work, into a paid profession.
They want accessible and affordable early childhood education for every child and a strategy to reduce violence against women and children. They want food security.
And they especially want an alternative compassionate, love-based economy – something they term sacred economics.
Joseph Edozien, who succeeded South African/British anti-apartheid activist and social reformer Margaret Legum, as chairperson of the South African New Economics Network (SANE), understand this, says Ms Muller.
“He wrote a powerful treatise in 2012 on the need to move away from a global system of financial usury to an inclusive, commons-based and bottoms-up self-organising people’s economy founded on love and abundance. He emphasises that love is the most effective and efficient foundation for any wellbeing economy, and that a world-wide deflation of usury finance will force us back to the wisdom of equitable, sharing and self-limiting economies, once practiced by Africans and indigenous people everywhere.”
She said that the single most useful lesson we can learn is that the world is the way it is because we are the way we are. “All the current systems in the world reflect the values, attitudes and behaviours of humans. If humans want better and more sustainable human development outcomes, we need to make better and more sustainable decisions,” she said.
“In a world of increasingly perilous human development outcomes, African women are proposing visionary but practical solutions that support grassroots agency, prioritise the well-being of the family, and demand deep and continuous democracy towards a transformative, human development agenda,” Ms Muller said.
What stands out is their call for an electronic framework, added to the existing municipal barometer, to enable co-ordination between civil society, government and the private sector.
“This can be done: we are planning to geo-map all the services provided by government and the City and all NGOs, then set up small women’s groups in each ward of the municipality. These groups would be tasked with addressing the challenges specific to each ward, across the country,” she explained.
The focus groups will be aimed at measuring women’s development, and finding solutions for renewable energy, food security and access to water and sanitation.
Women have asked for skills training, job creation and income generation in the implementation of this idea, as well as the appointment of two paid women community leaders in every ward, to oversee the implementation of this agenda.
What statistics say
Ms Muller said: “The South African family was the institution most battered and brutalised by apartheid-era policies, and is consequently the one most in need of restoration, nurturance and renewal.
“Domestic violence now costs the world nine times more than all the current wars combined, with figures of intimate partner violence worldwide ranging from 21% in North America and other high income countries, to 40% in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa, and 43% in South Asia.”
Research done by Sonke Gender Justice, and released on March 8, 2014, estimated that, in South Africa, every year, an estimated 1.5 million rapes occur, and that more than 1 000 women are killed by their intimate partners.
The cost of gender-based violence (GBV) in SA amounts to around R105 billion a year on medical costs alone.
James Fearon of Stanford University and Anke Hoeffler of Oxford University’s Centre for the Study of African Economies, the authors of a study, Conflict and Violence Assessment Paper; Benefits and Costs of the Conflict and Violence Targets for the Post-2015 Development Agenda, concluded that domestic abuse, perpetrated mostly against women and children, costs about $9.5 trillion dollars each year in lost economic output, far surpassing the economic cost of recent wars, which annually cost $170 billion, as well as other homicides, estimated at an annual $650 billion.
This study put the welfare cost of intimate partner violence alone at $4.4 trillion, or 5.2% of global GDP.
“I am neither a politician nor a decision-maker. As a result of a sincere wish to be of service, and burdened by the implications of being an 11th generation Afrikaner in a country ravaged by the intentions of self-determination and other-blindedness of my forebears, I have been propelled to a place where I have spent the last 13 years listening to the voices
and perspectives of wise African women, privileged to record successive layers of their intentions, resolutions and programmes of action since 2003,” Ms Muller said.
“In addition, I have spent years in silent listening; being made aware of an urgent spiritual agenda towards human sustainability at a time of increasing planetary uncertainty and chaos,” she said.
She said we need a massive change of direction, inwards, towards individuals, families and communities, towards personal responsibility, co-creative dialogue circles and sustainable procreative choices.
“We will need to learn to live simply so that others may simply live,” Ms Muller said.
“We need to link the existing assets in civil society, business and government to the most minimum requirements for productive self-reliance and resilience, as well as ensure the equal growth of
all… This is our most urgent and immediate task, and the true meaning of sustainable planetary management for the future…”
Ms Muller used as a final quote, and a reminder a quote which is attributed to Thomas Banyacya, an elder of the Hopi nation: “We are the ones, we have been waiting for.”