Author: Lyn

The Many Faces of Gender-Based Violence

by Xana

Recently I have been invited to participate in several discussions on the subject of Gender-Based Violence (GBV). 

Various forums highlighted the importance of language as well as the lack of vocabulary for women and children to be able to express their silenced experiences. 

For example, I was seven years old when I first experienced street harassment; yet I lacked the words to describe the fear and anxiety I felt.  The term ‘street harassment’ was not available to my parents nor me at the time.  When I began working, the concept of ‘sexual harassment in the workplace’ did not exist; this is not to say that it didn’t take place, because it did, and all too often.  Yet the absence of meaningful words left me silent for decades. 

GBV has many faces. Here are some:

  1. femicide – the murdering of a woman by a man often an intimate partner;
  2. rape – any form of forced or coerced sexual act;
  3. physical violence – hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, strangling;
  4. emotional violence – insulting, gaslighting, blaming;
  5. spiritual violence – demanding obedience, silence and subservience in the guise of religion;
  6. financial violence – controlling and restricting access to finance in exchange for compliance.

Today I identified another face of GBV, namely professional violence.  It was not my first experience; I just did not have a term to define it.  I hold a senior position in my organization; I am a founding director and COO.  On more occasions than I can count, employees of companies are rather unaccepting of my position and seek a ‘male oversight’ to finalize an agreement, for example.  They will Google the organization and change the name of the director.  Today, the company chose to email confidential documentation to info@….. in search of that ‘man’ to validate the new contract.  

This reminds me of an article I read a couple of years ago: two women who ran a successful advertising company in LA decided to add an imaginary director to their business portfolio, with a male’s name of course.  The results were immediate; as ‘he’ would send out communication to new customers, emails were attended to speedily and thoughtfully, and business was conducted professionally; dinner date requests ceased, as did incessant questions on marital status and number of children.

Professional abuse is real and happening around us every day. We need to address this abrasive disrespect of women’s positions and competence in no uncertain terms.  Those of us that have stood our ground before, know that yet another service provider will be calling us ‘difficult’.  That is the price we are willing to pay, for our excellence to be acknowledged and the respect due to us to be given. 

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In Honour of Ms Esther Kostina

I have been wanting to post this for a while now but have needed time to grieve.

On Tuesday 9 June I received a call: Ms Esther Kostina (Mama Esther, as she was known at HOC) had passed away. 

Who was Mama Esther?  She was one of the strong foundations that helped make HOC what it is today.  She became my teacher and advisor: a strong, fearless dignified no-nonsense woman, full of wisdom. 

I met Mama Esther at HOC in June 1987.  She worked for a man that had asked us if he could cultivate a portion of our land and move onto our premises.  The farmer moved in and brought Mama Esther with him.  Soon I noticed she worked from morning to night, Monday to Monday, no time off, no day off.  I confronted the man who was dismissive and arrogant.  Mama Esther could not communicate in English; she was Xhosa and spoke to the farmer in Afrikaans.  I took one of our residents, and through this interpreter, I learnt that she was receiving one bag of mealie meal per month, some soap and bits of leftover food from his table.  The farmer attended our church’s Bible college.  After a few meetings he was expelled, still unrepentant. 

I invited Mama Esther to join us at HOC, and she did.  A few months later she travelled home to fetch her youngest son, five years old, who was being cared for by his school-going sisters and a helpful neighbour; her husband had long deserted her with no warning.  Thembelani was a couple of years older than my kids.  They grew up together, attended nursery and primary school together. Thembelani went to 4-ways High School, completed his Matric and is now a manager at a furniture store.  

In 1988 Mama Esther took me to the end of HOC’s long but narrow piece of land and pointed to a tree. Under the tree, I could see a very small tin house. A family was living there: father (Thomas), mother (Vivian) and two children, Monwabisi 4 years old and Sitembele 2 years old. Vivian was Mama Esther’s cousin.  Two weeks later the family moved into one of HOC’s family cottages.  They lived with us until the boys completed Matric, and then they bought their own house in Diepsloot.  But that is a story for another day.

Mama Ether taught me about the Xhosa culture, about raising and caring for children (our own and others’), about community, about polygamy and gender-based violence in families, about the discrimination and abuse of girls.  Mama Esther stood by me: she corrected me; she taught me about agriculture; she taught me some Xhosa phrases. I’d like to think I helped her with some English! With much laughter, we learnt together how to make strawberry jam, and she taught me how to cook ‘real pap.’ She taught me how to carry my babies on my back, and tried, in vain, to teach me how to carry parcels on my head. 

She was a disciplinarian, and Thembelani made her so cross when he would run away from her wrath! We would just hear her voice THEM-BE-LA-NI, and we knew he was in trouble, but she would end up laughing and say, “You see? I’m getting too old to catch this young one.” 

Mama Esther filled many roles at HOC at different times: she cooked for the whole community, was our housekeeper, helped look after my kids and the kids we took in as boarders during the school year. She loved to work in the massive strawberry patch the two of us had started and did the one job I refused – supervise the slaughtering of chickens every Tuesday (I am grateful we no longer have those five chicken houses anymore!). 

When Thembelani completed his Matric, Mama Esther decided to retire: “I’m tired Xana; I want to go back to my house in Queenstown, grow my own vegetables and relax.”  It was a little bit hard to see her go; I missed her strong, reassuring presence.  But we kept each other’s numbers and would phone every now and then. 

I saw Mama Esther for the last time when our family visited her in Diespsloot two years ago; she had come from her hometown (Queenstown, now Komani, in the Eastern Cape) and was staying with her cousin.  She couldn’t see very well; she was frail, but we still laughed and remembered some of the early stories of HOC.  I’m grateful for that last visit; I managed to tell her how much she had meant to me, my family and HOC. 

Thank you, Mama Esther; your life enriched mine in more ways than you can imagine.

RIP Mama Esther.  I miss you. 

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The theological basis for Christian service

One of the clearest teachings about Christian service is found in the book of James 2:14-20 (NLT):

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. 18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God.[f] Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

The message is clear: faith without works is dead.  There is only one kind of saving faith – the one that bears the fruit of good works.

Paul summed it up in his letter to the Ephesians 2:8-10 (NLT):

8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

The theological tweet goes something like this: you are saved by grace for good works.

We cannot have true faith without corresponding good works.

God does not love us because we are good; we are good because God loves us.

Faith without works is bribery.

Works without faith is slavery.

Faith with works is Christianity.

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