Lesley Ann Foster – South Africa

Linked with The Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.


Lesley Ann Foster - South Africa.jpg.

Lesley Ann Foster – South Africa

She works for the Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre.
Anu Pillay, Ashoka Representative, says about her: “I admire her for her perseverance and her capacity to keep this issue in the mainstream, in a society where too often women fall through the cracks”.

Lesley Ann Foster was born and raised in East London, in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. She attended state-operated schools which, under the apartheid structure, were under-funded and academically inferior to those attended by privileged white students. Lesley began her career as a salesperson and design consultant for a firm in Cape Town. While doing marketing in another commercial firm, she pioneered the tele-sales concept, for which she received an award of excellence in 1990. She also earned national recognition as “Most Improved Sales Person of the Year” in 1991.

In 1991 Lesley joined the staff of the Daily Bread Charitable Trust in East London. While there she trained in childcare and worked with abandoned, abused and neglected children. Lesley opened more than twenty soup kitchens, which provided an average of 5,000 meals per day to people from disadvantaged communities. She was also responsible for other community projects. While at the Trust, she also participated in a national conference on child prostitution and in preparing the Eastern Cape’s contribution to a national white paper on children’s needs.

In 1995, Lesley left the Trust and became the personal assistant of the chief executive officer of the Independent Business Enrichment Centre (IBEC). She was responsible for coordinating the activities of six branches of IBEC nationally. She also organized a series of national conferences on micro- and small-scale enterprise development, which exposed her to the problems faced by women trying to establish income-generating projects.
This awareness, coupled with her own experience as a victim of sexual and domestic abuse compelled her to find effective ways of helping victims of such abuse.

According to a recent report of Human Rights Watch (a United States-based international rights monitoring and advocacy organization), South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of domestic violence. One in every six women in South Africa is in a violent domestic relationship. One thousand women are raped each day, and every six days an intimate partner murders a woman. Unfortunately, anecdotal data from social workers in poor black communities suggests that such violence is on the rise.

South Africa’s problem of sexual abuse and domestic violence against women is compounded by the fact that, while most victims are black and speak only their African languages, the support services are provided in other non-African languages thus creating a communication barrier. Further, most victims view the Departments of Safety and Security (the police), Justice and Welfare as unwelcoming and hostile. They are also deterred from turning to those agencies for help by the social stigma often attached to “speaking up.” In addition, institutions that are capable of helping victims sufficiently overcome their trauma are few and are swamped with urgent cases. They thus focus on short-term remedies.

In February 1996, Lesley established the Masimanyane Women Support Centre; the first organization in the Eastern Cape devoted exclusively to combating violence against women and girls.

Through the Masimanyane centre she is developing and implementing several services at the grassroots level and leading a carefully conceived and orchestrated initiative to heighten public understanding of the problem. She is also mobilizing appropriate responses by government and nongovernmental organizations throughout South Africa.

Women who are prepared to get out of abusive relationships and become independent are referred to the local Independent Business Enrichment Centre, a state-funded initiative with offices throughout the country that provides job skills training and, in some instances, additional support in the form of start-up loans and other assistance for self-employment initiatives.

Through the Masimanyane Center, Lesley has also organized a series of workshops on awareness and prevention of sexual abuse for teachers from schools throughout the province. Following up on those workshops, the Center is helping teachers organize support groups for victims of abusive relationships in their local schools.

Lesley is working to establish a shelter for battered women and their children in response to a pressing need at the grassroots level. She has recently succeeded in obtaining funding from the Japanese government for the construction of the shelter.

It is expected to accommodate up to sixty women. While residing in the shelter for periods of up to six months, the women will receive counseling and legal advice, and will also pursue formal business skills training courses to help them become independent.

A key initial component of the parallel public awareness and advocacy campaign is a survey aimed at defining the full dimensions of the problem of violence against women in the Eastern Cape province. Drawing on funds she has raised from provincial and national government agencies, Lesley has developed a questionnaire that will be administered to women throughout the province. She will be assisted by health care workers and students from local universities to collect the data. University staff from health, social work and law faculties will then analyze the information collected.

Lesley is also laying plans for a “national summit” at which the findings of the Eastern Cape survey on sexual and domestic abuse will be presented; where she intends to propose a “Survivor’s Bill of Rights”; and will encourage the country’s nine provinces to develop their own “No Violence Against Women Action Plan.”

Lesley believes that broad grassroots work is the key ingredient in mounting a successful campaign for the prevention of violence against women in South Africa. Her participation in the establishment and growth of more than 20 women’s organizations in rural and urban areas, which now provide support services to women and girls, is testimony of her commitment.The strategies she is developing in the Eastern Cape are being replicated in other provinces, and they hold great promise for impacting people throughout South Africa.

As part of the team, which developed the New Domestic Violence Act in South Africa, Leslie has provided relief for millions of women.

She co-coordinated the South African NGO Shadow report on violence against women, which was submitted to the CEDAW (Committee on the elimination of all forms of violence against women), at the United Nations. Based on this report, the South African government was advised to develop legislation for equality. This has now been effected.

The South African strategies have served as an example to other countries. For instance, the Norwegian Deputy Minister of Justice read the legislation on equality and also visited the Masimanyane Women’s Support center. She had the Norwegian Act include some of the elements of the South African Act. (1000PeaceWomen).

1 av 6 lever i forhold der de mishandles. 1 av 3 må regne med å bli voldtatt. Det handler om kvinner i Sør-Afrika. Landet som ble fritt fra apartheid, men som langt fra er fritt for undertrykkelse og vold. Lesley Ann Foster leder Masimanyane støttesenter for kvinner i Eastern Cape. Hun er en av Sør-Afrikas fremste eksperter på vold mot kvinner. Nylig besøkte hun Norge. Hva er hennes forklaring på at vold mot kvinner hører til dagens orden? (full text).







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