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Women & Poverty

Women Dreaming the Poverty Eradication Future in Africa:


Thought Leadership For the Material And Social Sustainability of Individuals, Families and Civilization

By Marthe Muller

“When women set about to eradicate poverty, they do so not only for themselves, for they would still have poor husbands and poor children.”

Mrs. Zanele Mbeki - Founder and Chairperson of the Women’s Development Bank Trust, and Patron of South African Women in Dialogue


South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID) is an inclusive, non-partisan civil society organisation aimed at ensuring that women’s voices are represented whenever decisions are made that affect women, and that seeks to amplify the voices of South African women during the remaining seven years of the African Decade of Women. South African Women in Dialogue seeks to work towards a psycho-social, family-focused poverty eradication approach and a woman-centered future in 2030, contributing to the priority areas of the National Development Plan by creating a collaborative partnership between all relevant stakeholders towards the building of a sustainable society and the unleashing of the limitless potential lying dormant within every individual.

It has become abundantly clear that many of our human strategies for surviving on earth are critically flawed. We live in a world that is seriously over-engineered, produces massive amounts of waste, encourages us to over-consume mass-produced foods of doubtful nutritional value, and compromises human health through practices that result in avoidable lifestyle diseases. We have also created a world which leaves the majority of the inhabitants of the planet under-nurtured, undernourished, undereducated, underemployed, under-housed, underdeveloped and undervalued.

A part of the problem is the fact that our global macro-economic theory is fatally flawed, as Solly Benatar, Emeritus Professor of Medicine from the University of Cape Town and now Professor of Public Health and Bioethics at the University of Toronto, recently pointed out in a Cape Times article entitled Vision, Honesty Needed To Fight Poverty. If absolute poverty, defined internationally as an income of less than $1.25 per day at 2005 purchasing power parity, includes about 50% of the world’s people, and if, in 2008, 54% of South Africans had incomes below $3 a day, and 60% had incomes below $5 a day, and if the top ten percent of South Africans earn 58% of the total annual national income, while the bottom 70 percent earn a mere 16.9 percent, then, he argues, “our future will surely be threatened by the profound social unrest that was temporarily avoided by the political transition.”

South African Women in Dialogue is celebrating its 10th year of existence in March 2013. During this month, in which we celebrate International Women’s Day, SAWID hopes to present its holistic, psycho-social, family-based poverty eradication action learning model, the Development Caravan, to government to position it as evidenced-based research and key model for the implementation of government’s anti-poverty strategy.

SAWID’s focus on poverty eradication at household level responds to a mandate which the women of South Africa gave to SAWID in 2003 and 2005 when they noted that they were still too poor to participate adequately in the new democratic structures in the country and asked SAWID to design a poverty eradication strategy that would address the burden of unpaid work that women were shouldering in a post-apartheid state characterised by high levels of family-disintegration, low skills, massive unemployment, poor access to opportunities, and inadequate service delivery.

The contributions of the almost 10 000 South African women (the majority of them rural) who have attended SAWID events since 2003 have empowered SAWID to become a thought leader on a holistic, psycho-social human development model for the eradication of poverty at household level in South Africa.

SAWID’s participation in the poverty eradication debate saw SAWID spearheading a poverty eradication study tour to Chile and Tunisia, two of the only countries who had managed to halve poverty by 2006, in partnership with our strategic partner the Independent Development Trust, make targeted presentations to cabinet, parliament, and various government and civil society structures, and make recommendations on the need for a focused and targeted poverty eradication strategy, a Women’s Ministry with a dedicated budget and a Planning Ministry to coordinate a national poverty eradication focus and agenda. Many of these recommendations have since become reality, and SAWID participated actively in every step of the unfolding of these transformations.

Since 2008 SAWID has been implementing the Development Caravan action learning poverty eradication pilot in three local municipalities, where we have trained 80 previously unemployed young rural men and women as Social Auxiliary Workers, to work under the supervision of a site manager and registered social workers to embed self-reliance and resilience and walk identified poor families out of poverty by linking them to available resources and services in partnership with their local municipalities.

The Development Caravan approach uses the Foresight for Development model of pro-actively planning for the future that one desires by creating a formal family plan for each identified indigent family and providing a nurturing environment for the accomplishments of the goals of the family and its individual members, in a psycho-socially supportive environment, through collaboration between civil society, government and the private sector.

The launch of the African Decade of Women 2010 – 2020, with its theme of Grassroots Approach to Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, coincided with the establishment of the National Planning Commission by President Jacob Zuma. The special focus areas of the African Women’s Decade include poverty eradication and women’s economic empowerment, agriculture and food security, health, maternal mortality and HIV and AIDS, education, science and technology, environment and climate change, peace and security and violence against women, governance and legal protection, finance and gender budgets, women in decision-making and the young women’s movement.

During March 2013, SAWID seeks to garner support for the intention of South African Women in Dialogue to engender the National Development Plan and its Vision 2030 of an active citizenry, collaborating in their own development.

One futures-oriented proposal is to create an electronic template for collaboration on the implementation of the National Development Plan by clearly articulating all the work that needs to be done by geographic area (municipal or district) based on identified and tracked human and family needs on agreed upon indicators of real human progress, where crime, violence, disease and family dissolution is subtracted from quantitative indicators like number of houses or schools built.

Such a system will need to be regularly updated, maintained and nourished by trained local men and women knowledge management workers, under the supervision of Stats SA and academic and research institutions.

A new and transparent financial model will be required where money is allocated directly to units of work done collaboratively by government, civil society and the private sector, with inbuilt mechanisms that would ensure the participation of civil society organisations, local labour, women, persons with disability and youth.

Africa can integrate her disparate parts through the use of technology, and a transparent knowledge management system at grassroots level that links Africans in a web of knowledge-gathering, sharing and measuring of material and social sustainability would allow futures best practices and indigenous knowledge systems to nurture and nourish each other. The training of local men and women in the maintenance of such a system could make Africa a world leader in meaningful and futures-oriented knowledge management for the fulfilment of human needs, thus eradicating the poverties of information, services, resources, income, health, education, infrastructure and opportunity that keep so many Africans from fulfilling their true human potential.


Marthe Muller

Women Historian and Knowledge Management Practitioner

Chief Operations Officer: South African Women In Dialogue (SAWID)

Read more about the author and her view on being a futurist.



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