POWA : People Opposing Women Abuse

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People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) is a feminist organisation with the purpose of providing comprehensive support as well as advocacy resources for survivors of violence.

Mission and Purpose

POWA is a South African organisation that has made it its mission to be a feminist organisation that provides professional services to survivors of violence. They aim to provide advocacy, training, psycho-social support, legal assistance, and sheltering services. POWA is also involved in law and policy reform, research, campaigning, and regional and international strategic engagement[1]. Through its aims, it redefines its mission by improving the quality of life for all women and girls and cultivating a society that is secure and egalitarian, one that is intolerant of any violence against women and girls, a culture in which women and girls are treated with respect and dignity, and in which their rights are advanced[2].

Origins and Development

POWA, founded in the Gauteng Province in 1979 by a committed group of female volunteers, arose in response to the pressing necessity for an organisation capable of furnishing sanctuary and essential services to women who were victims of domestic violence[3]. POWA evolved in tandem with the nation's substantial political and social changes. Operating for 44 years, they have expanded their focus to encompass the promotion of social transformation, education, policy reforms, and women's empowerment. [4] This analysis pertains to the transition of South Africa from the Apartheid regime to a democratic one, where it considers how POWA aligned its objectives with the principles of democracy.

Further, POWA was the first organisation to establish a shelter for abused women in 1981 and pioneered second-stage (or transitional) housing for women in 2009 in Gauteng[5]. POWA built the capacity of emerging organisations in all nine provinces, leading to better access for women from rural and under-resourced areas. They have ensured more significant access to justice and legal services for women. They have achieved awards ‘Jozi Award Community Development (2015)’, ‘Gauteng Department of Social Development MEC Mazibuko: Gauteng Care Givers (2015)', and ‘In recognition of women for making a difference by contributing positively towards moving Gauteng City Region Forward Human Rights & Democracy: Gender Equality Award Organisational category (2004)[6]. Further, POWA has contributed to the law–making process around the Domestic Violence Act and the Sexual Offences Act, monitoring the implementation of these laws[7]. POWA’s legal manager at the time, Wendy Isaack, also commented on the review of State Institutions Supporting Constitutional Democracy, where she conducted critical findings along with recommendations and sent it to Prof. A. K Asmal, the chairperson of the study[8]. Through the provision of comments and the presentation of significant conclusions together with suggestions, she actively participated in the deliberative process, assuring the inclusion of civil society opinions and insights in the review. Finally, POWA ensured women's economic independence by providing skills development and income generation infrastructure[9]. Today, POWA has six branches throughout the province, providing education, counselling, legal services, and shelter. They also have two communal shelters and one second-stage housing as an alternative place of safety[10]. Finally, POWA actively advocates to ensure the realisation of women’s rights, ultimately improving women’s quality of life[11].

Organisational Structure, Membership, and Funding

Considering the organisational structure, POWA is a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO)[12], and as an NGO, it acts independently of government entities. POWA follows a pyramid organisational structure, with 11 members on the board to ensure the smooth sailing of the organisation. The committee comprises a Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson, Treasurer, Director, Executive Director and six other members[13]. That being said, the organisational structure would mean little if there was no membership aspect since membership promotes collaboration, awareness, and the talents and networks of committed NGO supporters, helping many organisations achieve their aims and develop a robust and supportive community. Hence, POWA’s membership and volunteer network is not limited to its staff or victims and is open to anyone who supports the cause, as this will allow for a more significant impact.

Finally, as an NGO, POWA relies heavily on funding. Funding provides resources to finance a need, program, or project (Cambridge Dictionary)[14]. While this is usually in the form of money, it can also take the form of effort or time from an organisation or company, known as in-kind funding[15]. POWA received funding in both the abovementioned ways, monetary and in-kind donations. To begin, there was a 1.6bl government grant established last year to combat gender-based violence; however, POWA, as one of the civil society organisations, has yet to receive any money from that grant[16]. This did not, however, take away from the fact that POWA has received immense support, considering its vast number of partners and collaborations, donors, and volunteers.

Partners and Collaborations:

First, House of Busby, On April 27, 2016, Guess Jeans were sold at a 10% discount in support of violence against women. POWA received the 10% sales proceeds to help survivors and their children residing at POWA’s places of safety. Women and girls were asked to contribute their Guess jeans to the charity. POWA received 254 pairs of jeans on May 27, 2016, where the jeans were distributed to shelter survivors and other jeans were sold to workers and the general public to raise revenue for the shelter. To date, the proceeds from the sales total R 5 290.00 (POWA, n.d)[17].

Next is iLearn, which played a vital part in empowering 20 survivors by giving online computer training classes for a year[18].

Then, L'Oréal, where POWA was awarded a trial collaboration initiative in 2016 by L'Oréal Professional African Salon Institute, in which five survivors received scholarships to study Hair Care for eight months[19]. The course was R50000 for each woman, which included tuition and equipment. The women were also given R1000 in transportation each month[20]. Many survivors, particularly those housed in POWA shelters, are untrained and unemployed.  Another element that keeps women in abusive relationships is financial dependency on the abusive partner. The initiative is a significant step towards empowering survivors to end the cycle of violence. The L'Oréal course promises women employment placements and the opportunity to create hair care enterprises. The project also allows survivors to coach others who will enter the programme after the initial group finishes the course.[21] A more recent contribution was a campaign launched by L’Oréal Paris, which collaborated with 12 female social media influencers. These influencers contributed their perspectives and opinions to the collective effort aimed at addressing and combating the prevalent issue of gender-based violence in South Africa[22]. The female individuals further endorse the L’Oréal Paris Rouge Signature EmpoweRED lipstick collection and L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Red Cream since a percentage of the proceeds generated in August will support POWA.

Then, Joe Public Johannesburg uses innovative newspaper advertising to raise awareness about the frequency of domestic abuse in South Africa as well as the works of POWA. “POWA TAKES OVER TV NEWS TO BREAK THE SILENCE AROUND GBV[23]” and “THE NEWS YOU NEED TO SEE[24]” are only two of the articles posted on Joe Public where the works of POWA are shared and the voices of victims are heard.

Finally, POWA partnered with the Mzansi Women's Film Festival to screen the moving film "Alison" at Constitutional Hill, presenting stories of perseverance and hope[25].


As per POWA’s website, they have 13 donors, namely Mary Oppenheimer and Daughters Foundation, Suzan Stehlik Charitable Trust fund SA, Werksmans attorneys, Oxfam SA, Legal&Tax, Social Development Funds, Eskom, Avon, Absa, Cliffe, Dekker Hofmeyr, Comic Relief, Wiphold, Lottery and Avon Justine and if that weren’t enough they too have a tab on their website where volunteers can donate to the cause[26].


POWA’s website has a donation tab where anyone who wants to support the cause may donate. They also have barcodes that can be scanned, namely, SnapScan and Zapper, through which anyone can contribute.

Specialisations, Methods and Tools

POWA covers a range of specialised domains, each of which is committed to resolving the issue of gender-based violence. The specialisations are aligned with the departments established within POWA's organisational structure. The Clinical Department focuses on providing specialised clinical services. Qualified social workers and social auxiliary workers oversee this department's various programmes and activities. The legal and advocacy section focuses on providing technical legal advice and engaging in advocacy efforts. POWA offers direct legal assistance to those who have experienced sexual assault and intimate partner abuse. This assistance includes court support and preparations for legal proceedings. Over time, trained volunteers have provided aid to several individuals who have experienced domestic abuse. This assistance has encompassed various aspects, including facilitating the process of obtaining Protection Orders per the Domestic Abuse Act 116 of 1998 and educating women about their entitlements and available legal remedies[27]. In addition, POWA provides educational rights to many entities, including schools, communities, the South African Police Services (SAPS), the Ekurhuleni Metro Police, and other institutions about legislation such as the Domestic Violence Act, Customary Marriage Act, Sexual Violence Act, and the Domestic Partnership Act[28]. Furthermore, POWA's legal services branch actively establishes networks and cultivates alliances. The research training and development department focuses on specialised initiatives to facilitate women's advancement, explicitly focusing on enhancing their empowerment and knowledge. Significant projects and events exemplify these endeavours.

The specialisations above are discerned by considering POWA's methodologies and tools, as they believe there is no singular pathway to effect change. Consequently, they consistently strive to explore novel and innovative techniques within their programming endeavours to attain the desired transformation. The approaches and instruments that closely correspond to participatory democracy encompass lobbying, outreach and media assistance, training and development, and feminist research and knowledge generation.

Major Projects and Events

POWA takes a holistic strategy to address gender-based violence through a few significant projects. (1) Raising Her Voice: Despite recent advancements in women's political leadership in South Africa, there is a persistent and escalating prevalence of violence against women[29]. The adverse effects of HIV and AIDS, as well as poverty, on women are significantly disproportionate[30]. By integrating grassroots awareness-raising and action with lobbying and advocacy efforts at both national and regional levels, the Raising Her Voice initiative contributes to transforming societal attitudes and behaviours. Additionally, it plays a crucial role in holding the government accountable for its pledge to adopt and enforce the African Women's Rights Protocol[31]. (2) Teenz Alliance: with this initiative, POWA engages with ADAPT [1] to combat sexual assault in South African schools. By offering leadership training, advocacy campaigns, and access to sexual violence treatment, this project empowers both boys and girls. POWA actively interacts with young generations to confront this severe subject by addressing sexual assault in schools and fostering a sense of equality and respect amongst students[32]. (3) Add Your Voice to #EndDomesticSilence: POWA created this campaign in collaboration with JOKO [2] to shatter the quiet around domestic abuse in South Africa. This project urges South Africans to raise their voices to support critical measures combating gender-based violence[33]. The campaign increases awareness, eliminates the stigma associated with survivors, and calls attention to the essential need to prevent domestic violence by elevating victim tales and creating discussions[34].

Through these projects and events, POWA aims to focus on capacity-building and training regarding empowering individuals with the knowledge and skills to address violence against women. By providing training opportunities, POWA actively involves community members becoming advocates, leaders, and service providers. This aligns with the democratic principle of informed and engaged citizens driving positive change. Overall, POWA's projects also actively involve citizens, survivors, and communities in addressing gender-based violence, fostering dialogue, and advocating for policy changes. These projects recognise that meaningful change occurs when individuals and communities actively engage in the decision-making processes and advocate for their rights and the rights of others.

[1] ADAPT is a non-profit organisation that was founded in 1994 to provide therapy and support services to abused women, men, children, and older people in South Africa.

[2] JOKO is a South African tea company known for its social mission to combat domestic violence by leveraging the power of conversations and promoting awareness and support for survivors of abuse.