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Gender Equity Through Creative Conflict Management

A Series of Pilot Workshops Facilitated by the Independent Projects Trust and Funded by Charity Projects

Written for IPT by Sara Bletcher


A pilot workshop for Women

The Independent Projects Trust, (IPT) received funding from Charity Projects in the United Kingdom to integrate gender awareness into their existing training programs in order to address the issues of the social inequality of women. This was done after IPT staff, during the course of their field work, became aware of the urgent need to address these problems. Included in this was the awareness that: women needed to be more directly involved in efforts to reduce the levels of conflict in the province, that women needed to be empowered to play a greater leadership role, and that gender relationships which contributed to their oppression needed to be challenged.

As part of this process it was thought essential to explore the issues around why women feel they are not having a greater impact in their fields, what their needs are and what skills they feel would help assist them in having this impact.

IPT wanted to ensure that the work continued to address the needs of women in the province. Therefore they decided to hold three two day workshops. The purpose of these workshops was two-fold: firstly to establish whether gender and conflict resolution could be combined in a workshop and if so how? and secondly to establish whether there was a market or need for such a workshop if it were developed.

Each workshop was held for a group of between 20 and 25 women. One was held in Port Shepstone, (which included participants from the surrounding areas) one in Richards Bay (which included women from Empangeni as well as Ulundi and the surrounding areas) and one in Durban.

The Port Shepstone group was a fairly mixed group racially. Most of the participants were married with children and lived in urban or semi urban areas. The majority were over 40 years old and just under half had tertiary degrees. Included among this group was an iNkosi, a priest, a business women, several politicians from across the political spectrum and a number of housewives.

In contrast to this the Richards Bay group were predominantly African women. This was a younger group (half were under 40 years old) but despite the fact that most of the women were single or divorced almost all of them also had children. Just over half of them had tertiary degrees, and most had received some kind of prior gender or conflict resolution training. Included in this group were a number of educators, two policewomen, two businesswomen and a member of Parliament

The Durban group was by far the youngest group with well over half of the women under 40 years old. Like the Shepstone group this group was racially very mixed but unlike either of the two other groups many of the participants in this workshop had no children. Just over half were married. Just over half had tertiary degrees and most had received some sort of prior gender or conflict resolution training. Unlike the other two groups which seemed to be dominated by politicians, this group was predominantly social workers or people who worked helping other people. There was a large delegation from the prison services as well as from various help and support groups in Wentworth. (see appendix one for more details)


The workshops were divided into two main components. The first day of each workshop was the skills training section which included modules on assertiveness, communication, power and the co-operative use of power.

The second day was devoted to more open discussions and an evaluation of the first days training with a view to establishing whether it successfully met the needs of women and the skills they lacked and how it could be best implemented in the field. Discussions centered on:

  • which social structures and institutions could be used to challenge the socialization process to
    ensure gender equity.
  • the question of why women were so poorly represented in top structures and what training or
    facilitation IPT could offer to improve this situation.
  • what role men could play in this process.
  • how or whether one was able to deal with questions of gender in the rural areas.

Differences between the three workshops

At the first workshop the gender issue was raised almost immediately. While this did help spark debate and open discussion, it also took the focus of the workshop away from skills training.

At the second workshop it was therefore decided to begin the workshop by focusing on conflict resolution and the participants engaged in a game called red- blue which helped establish conflict resolution as being the central issue.

This certainly seemed to focus the workshop more but by the third and final workshop it seemed as if other issues related to conflict had begun to dominate the discussion.

Each of the three groups were immensely diverse and contained a large mix of different women. While this did create an ideal opportunity for the women to network and come into contact with a wide variety of women, it also made it incredibly difficult to decide how to direct the workshops i.e. whether to empower the women by imparting particular conflict resolution skills; or whether to rather address gender issues and allow for a more open discussion.

This was even more difficult because most of the women who attended these workshops fell somewhere on the scale between these two things. Some were already fully aware of the gender issue and were merely looking for ways of having an impact with this awareness or for ways of marrying this awareness with the practicalities of their lives while others had very little gender awareness at all. Some of the women quite obviously had no problem with asserting themselves and were already well schooled in the methods of conflict management, while others, equally obviously, lacked all of these skills.

Because of the short duration of the workshops and the structural differences needed in approach and design to cater for the diverse range of needs it became difficult to meet many of them. This is the reality of gender awareness workshops but when it comes to the question of imparting skills then perhaps a thorough needs assessment should be conducted to establish which skills training would be most useful. Running such a workshop with a group of people who all have the same needs is also recommended.

Some of the expectations that women came to the workshop with perhaps help illuminate some of the needs they have. Included in this were:

Port Shepstone

  • to form support groups
  • to get to know one another and network
  • to learn how to manage conflict in the family - several of the women spoke about how they had no problems in their professional lives but that in their personal lives they found their husbands belittled them and offered them very little support. One women in particular described how at work she was treated as an equal but once she came home her husband merely treated her as one of his children. In fact she said that not only was there a lack of support at home but that there was also opposition.
  • to develop strategies to help enlighten people about gender issues without causing trauma.
  • how to take gender issues back into environments that were very hostile to it.

Richards Bay

  • to grow as women and become more independent and make their own decisions
  • ideas for self protection against men
  • how to enlighten rural women, Zulu men and chiefs (one women described how a water project she had been involved in, in the Ulundi area had failed because all the members on her committee were women and the men were not prepared to listen to women at all.)
  • how to motivate and organise women
  • how to communicate when the rank and cultural structure prevents it. This particular policewomen was having problems addressing issue with her superiors.


  • to learn how to create gender awareness in society, and to implement training and pass skills onto others.
  • how to make gender forums work. (This was re-iterated by several of the politicians who felt that despite the fact that much legislation had been passed to improve the situation of women they did not have the time or capacity to pass this information onto other women and neither were they able to get the viewpoints of women "on the ground". What this meant was that much of the legislation was not being implemented and they welcomed discussions about how information could be disseminated from the top down as well how the issues that were affecting woman's lives on the ground could be brought to their attention.)
  • how to handle conflict resolution in the school environment - this particular women was head of the governing body of a school and was having problems with her male colleagues.



An interesting aspect that emerged out of these workshops was the different perception that woman have of the word "power". While many of the white women in Port Shepstone viewed the word as having quite negative connotations and said that it made them feel uncomfortable, the women in Empangeni saw it as a much more positive and empowering word.

What stops women from having an impact

One of the issues raised during discussions was the fact that women have to be of a certain age before they are given any responsibility, while boys are just expected to have this authority from an early age. Because of this boys and young men are given jobs and tasks to perform that they quite clearly aren't yet qualified to perform and in such a way are given the chance to learn through hands on experience. This opportunity is seldom presented to younger women with the consequence that they are less likely to learn the skills and develop the experience that boys do.

Other things that stop women from having an impact were:

  • other women who often try and sabotage their fellow women through jealousy or sometimes merely because they themselves are sexist and don't believe women to be capable of the same things as men.
  • the fact that there is no trust in the work that women do with the result that they are often disempowered and made to feel inadequate
  • the fact that there is a lack of role models and that powerful assertive women are often looked down upon and seen as being "not women". One very wealthy business women described how she was often referred to as "uya ndoda," "just like a man."
  • lack of skills and knowledge
  • lack of resources
  • fear of the unknown
  • social pressure and expectations for women to do "women things"
  • liquor abuse, this seemed to be a common problem in the coloured communities where the women felt that they had no problems dealing with the men except when they were drunk
  • that many women are submissive and are afraid to raise controversial issues. Included in this was that many women like to maintain the status quo and that they try not to upset men

Challenging gender stereotyping and women's oppression

It was pretty much unanimously agreed that gender awareness is a slow process. Therefore it was suggested that in order to challenge these stereotypes one had to begin with school children in their late teens, who, as one participant described, "are not only the future parents but are also the only people who had a chance of impacting on their parents."

Schools were also thought to be a good focus place for this type of work because, as it was pointed out, the syllabus has recently been changed to incorporate gender awareness and therefore it is critical that not only the pupils but also the teachers are trained so that the new syllabus can have its desired impact. It is of little use if a sexist teacher is teaching a non sexist syllabus. Here, however, it was stressed that there is a need to liaise with the parliamentary gender commission who were responsible for these particular changes. It was also stressed that the focus should be equality in general rather than just gender equality and that the groups should be mixed to help demonstrate how gender issues are applicable to both boys and girls.

It was also agreed that the home is a good place to start and the suggestion was made for each participant to go back to her own home and evaluate how she herself helped to enforce gender stereotypes; what tasks are assigned to boys vs. what tasks are assigned to girls etc. Another suggestion was that gender workshops might be held for parents and children to help them negotiate some of their difficulties in communication and provide them with better conflict management and parenting skills. Many of the coloured and white women throughout the workshops seemed to express domestic difficulties of this nature.

In terms of challenging oppressive cultural traditions, it was suggested that it is better to "re-affirm by example rather than by preaching." For example: if a women chooses not to wear the traditional black mourning clothes for a year after her husband has passed away then instead of trying to convince others, she should rather just go ahead and not wear them. She should perhaps have this discussion with her family before the death so that when the time comes it is not unexpected and everyone will know what is going to happen. The lesson here seems to be that honest communication is a key element of managing conflict.

Several of the women, however, spoke quite eloquently about the difficulties they faced trying to change some of these practices. One of the more assertive and powerful women in Empangeni described how she had decided not to wear a scarf covering her head despite her married status but that none-the-less each time she visited her mother-in-laws house, she gave up her principals and covered her head. Sometimes, she said, she even put the scarf on if she was merely driving passed her mother-in-laws house.

Many other women said they felt it was impossible to even begin to try and challenge these practices because they felt they were so ingrained in their culture.

Possible areas where these type of workshops might be valuable. Many of the participants seemed eager to have gender workshops run in their own particular field. Included in the list of suggestions was:

  • gender workshops for family councillors in churches. It was felt that this could have a very large impact because family councillors so often enforce stereotypes by blaming the women for breakdowns in marriages or other family related problems.
  • gender workshops for traditional healers, who much like family councillors also have a large impact on their clients as well as incredible power to begin to challenge stereotypes.
  • conflict resolution workshops for groups of traditional leaders and elected local government structures. According to one of the women who is herself a councillor, there appears to be immense tension between these two structures. This tension is exacerbated by the fact that many of the elected leaders are women and the traditional ones, who are almost always men, are very often sexist. Some of the women in these positions are experiencing a number of problems and it seems that a gender workshop that was somehow disguised as a conflict resolution skills training workshop would go a long way in helping them to address these problems
  • workshops for people in leadership positions like politicians etc. who have the power to influence many other people. This would include identifying people with leadership qualities in communities and training them as trainers.
  • workshops for groups of prisoners. Here it was stressed that warders would have to be trained first so that they are prepared for the changes. Also that the training would have to take cognizance of the fact that the participants were in fact in jail and not free people.
  • workshops for mixed groups of policemen and women dealing with conflict resolution skills for managing the gender relations.
  • workshops for aids educators. It was felt that a big part of the problem with the spread of aids in this country is the fact that women aren't able to assert themselves and protect themselves. If the people who did the aids awareness training were also aware of these gender issue then it would help them fulfil their mandates.

Dealing with gender issues in the rural areas

Almost nothing happens in the rural areas without passing through the amaKhosi first, and with conservatism and women's subjugation so well entrenched in Zulu culture, it is very difficult to convince the amaKhosi to get involved in anything that they view as bringing about change.

Various ways of approaching this issue were suggested but almost all of them involved having to follow the established procedures and protocol and approach the traditional leaders as they expect to be approached. Here one participant raised the issue of culture changing and developing and stressed the importance of not just adopting another culture where these traditions and procedures are not important.

Another important opinion that was expressed, was that the oppression of Zulu women has historically been exaggerated and that in fact many rural women who are able to live up to certain moral standards are really respected. This participant further explained that in terms of Zulu traditions older married women wielded enormous power especially in terms of cattle and that they really do in fact have the capacity to be very assertive, especially within their own families. A suggestion was made that perhaps these older women are a very valuable group to try and co-opt, more especially so because of the power they wield.

There are, however, some aspects of Zulu culture that are undeniably oppressive. One example is that Zulu culture doesn't take kindly to single mothers and divorced women. Societal pressure dictates that "you are only good if you are married" and that "it is marriage which makes a woman a woman." Even the Zulu word for an unmarried woman "umjendevu", has bad connotations.

Involvement of men

Another thing that emerged from the process was a clear understanding that it is impossible to discuss interaction between the two sexes, or a way forward, without the presence of men. Furthermore it is critical to give gender training to those people who are the most resistant to it i.e. the men. As one participant put it "to give gender training to the people who are being the block in the communication." This idea was re-iterated through out all three of the workshops.

Questions, however, arose about how to include men in the process when it became apparent that they were unlikely to come willingly to workshops that they perceived to be about gender issues. Various solutions were offered. Included among them were the ideas that workshops be held where groups of women be encouraged to each bring a man they knew who might be interested in the issues, exposing men to powerful women so that they could begin to understand what women are capable of achieving, as well as running workshops for women and their spouses. This last suggestion, however, was very controversial because some of the participants felt that they would not be free to talk in the presence of their husbands.

It was also suggested that more male trainers be used to run workshops, particularly workshops for men, or to run workshops that disguise the gender issue and deal more specifically with conflict resolution. It was suggested that these workshops could be run for NGO's, CBO's Unions, corporate structures as well as government organizations, like the police force.

Several of the women, however, expressed the opinion that there was also a place for women only workshops. This included workshops for assertiveness training etc. They felt that men intimidated them, more especially their spouses and that they would not feel free to talk in their presence. While this opinion seem to come mostly from African participants it was also expressed by a number of the Afrikaans speaking women.


In some of the areas, like Port Shepstone, many women felt that they lacked opportunities network and meet a wide variety of other women from different backgrounds. These women were so excited at the prospect of having a forum to establish contacts and provide support to each other that it almost seemed to overshadow their need for gender awareness or skills training. (After this particular workshop it was agreed that IPT would facilitate a follow up meeting in the new year to provide the opportunity to reconnect and take the process of creating a forum further.)

The participants at this workshop also said that they felt a need for a database with all the other people who were already involved in gender issues and which they could use as a resource. IPT agreed to try and compile one which they did and which was then included in the manual at all the subsequent workshops.

How to incorporate gender into conflict resolution workshops. The workshops indicated that there are four possible options:

    1. To run all women workshops with the intention of imparting particular skills to women to help them deal with all sorts of conflict but gender conflict in particular. For this option it is essential to have groups of women from similar backgrounds so that their particular needs and skill requirements can be met. Furthermore if it were a group of people who regularly came into contact with each other this would help present opportunities to re-enforce the learned skills through interacting with each other.

In this instance a needs assessment evaluation would have to be done prior to each workshop to establish exactly what skills would be most useful in that particular case. There are no all encompassing answers. Some women need conflict resolution skills to help them mediate the gender conflicts that arise in their personal lives. Others have no problem with their families but are failing in mediating gender conflicts in their professional lives. Each workshop would have to be tailor made to meet the specific needs of the group.

    1. To run mixed (men and women) workshops with the stated purpose of imparting conflict resolution skills. Here the gender issues and dynamics would have to be subtly introduced through role plays and gender tailored exercise. Yet another issue that kept emerging throughout the whole process was the negative connotation that even the word "gender" had for men and the fact that very few men would be willing to attend a gender workshop. Perhaps a possible alternative name for these workshops might be "conflict resolution in human relations."

These workshops would include groups of people from similar backgrounds like a group of police members, a group of local government councillors, or a group of men and women who all work in the same company. In this case it would be critical to center the gender issue around the toleration of diversity.

    1. To further facilitate forums for professional women particularly in areas like Port Shepstone where no such forums already exist and where the women seemed excited at the prospect of remaining in touch with each other. Here the priority would be to facilitate dialogue rather than trying to impart skills. A further spin off of such an approach would be that it would provide the women with a forum and a network. Obviously it would be beneficial to have the participants in these workshops come from a wide range of backgrounds.
    1. To facilitate cross cultural workshops. One of the issues that kept emerging through out the process was that despite the demise of apartheid, South African remains incredibly divided and very few women, particularly in the more rural areas, have any opportunity to meet women from different race groups. Most women who participated in the workshops seemed to perceive gender inequality as being their problem only. Many of the African women believed that white women were all forceful and strong and that none of them had these problems and many of the white women felt that the Africans were happy to be subjugated and oppressed. Cross cultural workshops that raised these gender issues and imparted some of the more simple skills like communication, but were mostly geared towards opening discussions would go a long way in helping to ameliorate this situation.

A further suggestion for this type of workshop would be to include both rural and urban women because this again seems to be a divide that is not often transgressed in South Africa. Like with cross cultural workshop this could help to bring powerful successful women into contact with more submissive women and hopefully by example open up the options and possibilities for them.

However, at the end of the day, it is perhaps best that these options be used as models to assist in designing the final workshop program depending on the outcome of a needs assessment of the participants.


Workshop 1

Port Shepstone held at Kapenta Bay on 16-17 November for 18 delegates

Profile of Delegates:

Race 10 africans (56%) 6 whites (33%) 1 coloured (5.5%) 1 indian (5.5%) -
Marital status 12 married (67%) 2 divorced (11%) 2 widowed (11%) 2 single (11%) -
Children 17 with children (94.5%) 1 no children (5.5%) - - -
Age groups 2 under 30 (11%) 2 (30-40) (11%) 7 (40-50) (39%) 3 (50-60) (17%) 4 over 60 (22%)
Residence 10 urban area (56%) 4 semi urban area (22%) 4 rural area (22%) - -
Education level 7 with tertiary degree (39%) 11 without tertiary degree (61%) - - -

1 Priest
1 iNkosi
1 receptionist
1 legal secretary
1 nurse
1 medical practitioner
1 businesswoman
1 school inspector
1 adult education project co-ordinator
2 teacher
1 mayoress
2 politicians
4 housewives

Workshop 2

Richards Bay (Empangeni and Ulundi) held at 22/23 November for 18 delegates

Profile of delegates:

Race 17 africans (94%) 1 indian (6%) - -
Marital status 5 married (28%) 5 divorced (28%) 2 widowed (11%) 6 single (33%)
Children 17 with children (94%) 1 no children (6%) - -
Age groups 4 under 30 (22%) 5 (30-40) (28%) 6 (40-50) (33%) 3 (50-60) (17%)
Residence 13 urban area (72%) 2 semi urban area (11%) 3 rural area (17%) -
Education Level 8 with tertiary degree (44%) 10 without tertiary degree (56%) - -
Prior training 7 with gender awareness training (39%) 7 with conflict management training (39%) - -


5 educators
2 business people
1 librarian
2 secretaries
1 nurse
1 member of Parliament
1 transport officer
2 policewomen
1 fieldworker
1 mining company employee
1 housewife

Workshop 3

Durban held at the Royal Hotel on 28 -29 November for 21 delegates

Profile of delegates:

Sex 20 Women (95%) 1 man (5%) - - -
Race 8 africans (38%) 4 whites (19%) 6 coloured (29%) 3 indians (14%) -
Marital status 11 married (52%) 2 divorced (10%) 0 widowed(0%) 8 single (38%) -
Children 13 with children (62%) 8 no children (38%) - - -
Age groups 7 under 30 (33%) 6 (30-40) (29%) 7 (40-50) (33%) 0 (50-60) 1 over 60 (5%)
Residence 17 urban area (81%) 3 semi urban area (14%) 1 rural area (5%) - -
Education Level 2 with tertiary degree (57%) 9 without tertiary degree (43%) - - -
Prior training 7 with gender awareness training (33%) 10 with conflict management training (67%) - - -


11 social workers
1 councillor
2 trainers
1 customer services worker
1 journalist
1 account exec for PR Company
1 recruitment consultant
1 development facilitator

Quick e-mail now for further info to IPT (Iole Matthews)