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Women RISE Team at ASNA 2023: ‘Joy, Promise, and Future in the Negative Moment’

Written by: Bonelwa Nogqaza


The Women RISE researchers, alongside the management team of the project, attended the Annual Anthropology Conference held at Houw Hoek Hotel in Grabouw, Western Cape. The ASNA conference is annually hosted through collaboration from academics, civil societies, and other public participants. The Women RISE team formulated the HSRC panel among other institutions and organizations that were present at the conference. Although the researchers presented varying papers, the overall theme of the project they presented under is on the Covid-19 recovery process in rural areas of the Eastern Cape.

Women RISE Researcher team at the ASNA conference, Houw Hoek Hotel, September 2023


The eight researchers from the Women RISE project all presented their papers, offering insights into the findings emerging from their respective research sites. A brief overview of their reports was as follows:


Anelitha, a researcher stationed in Kwelerha community, in the Buffalo City region, presented on vigilantism and how women in the community are taking a stand to voice their concerns, protect themselves, and speak against the prevalent issues in Tuba village. Her research gave insight into women’s autonomy, their collective organization, and highlighted the missing gaps in the role of policing within the community. Located in the same region of Kwelerha but a different village in Gwaba, Nombulelo presented her paper titled “Qina Mhlolokazi”, a collective group of widowers who have realized their common struggle of losing their loved ones. The establishment of this group is premised on the need to offer moral, psychosocial help to each other as they journey into widowhood.


Tandokazi, located in the Transkei region in Misty Mount, presented a paper titled “Women Talk Eziko”, where she unravelled the intricacies of private conversations that women usually hold in selected domestic spaces assigned to women, such as in the kitchen or near eziko (outside cooking spaces). Her paper delves deep into the power held by women through the intimate conversations that they hold in these spaces, advising each other mainly on marital-related sexual affairs. Zipho, based in Mbhashe region in Cwebe village, presented a paper on bee assemblage and cultural gatherings in the community. Her paper gave insight into how social cohesion and the spirit of the community are reinforced in post-Covid-19 recovery and how women are reconnecting through these cultural events occurring in the village. Her paper recalls how the Covid-19 pandemic destabilized social ties in the community and how, through these cultural gatherings, communities are restoring hope and re-imagining the post-pandemic futures.


Bonelwa, a researcher based in Tsolo, presented a paper titled “Covid-19 Wounds”, giving insights into how the state's response to managing the pandemic through implementing safety gear such as the provision of masks, sanitizers, and bandages triggered some of the cultural sensitivities and evoked the salient meanings attached to the wounds. In her paper, the wound of circumcision and the mouth as a wound that should not be covered are considered. Her paper opens a window into how the state disregarded these cultural sensitivities in dealing with the pandemic and on one hand how the community implicitly resisted this form of control in selected cultural spaces. Her paper develops the argument maintained by Bank and Sharpley in their book on Covid and custom on the war of culture that was erupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Although Anelisa, a researcher based in Mount Frere, did not present at the conference, his paper argues along the same line as Zipho’s on post-Covid recovery hope and resilience. He delves into the livelihood aspect, focusing specifically on the role of communal garden among neighbours and how through their cooperation they manage to both sustain their gardens and social bonds during the unprecedented moment posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.


Zikhona, who is in Mount Ayliff region, presented a paper alongside one of the management team, Kholekile. Their paper researched the health dimension looking into how the pandemic created barriers in accessing healthcare services and how this eventually led to increased social reproduction at the height of the pandemic due to unavailable access to contraceptives. Their paper further explored difficulties in accessing health across the villages where this project is conducted, highlighting the general communities had difficulty in accessing public health services. Leslie and Aneza gave an insightful presentation on the modernization of rural homes, which women sometimes describe simply as “keeping up with the times”, has been ongoing at a rapid pace in many rural communities. Scholars have commented on this trend, but few have focused on the role that women play in the process of building as project funders, managers, coordinators, and leaders. In the Xhosa communities, home-building and homemaking are the business of women, but often in a context where the wider decisions about the structure and assets of the homestead are taken by men, as husbands and patriarchs. The catalytical role women pushing forward to home improvement requires closer attention, especially since this process has gained momentum since the pandemic. Similar to Anelisa’s paper, Tim gave insight into how the agrarian livelihoods were destabilized by the pandemic. Kamva’s presentation focused more on the policy arena, offering insights into how GBV is modelled and presented through policies.


The presentations rendered by the Women RISE team generally received insightful comments from the audience, with some noting the strengths of the projects and the commendable choice of methodology. The extensive fieldwork conducted by the researchers not only afforded the project with rawness and authentic data but also offered new insights and possible gaps in scholarship, especially on topics such as GBV and others. The project was generally applauded with high praise from the ASNA panel. To that end, Bonelwa and Nombulelo’s papers, who are the researchers in the project, were listed among the top 10 presented papers, winning book awards with them. This was one of the great wins for the project at such a national anthropological space.

Photographs taken at ASNA conference of award winners Bonelwa Nogqaza (far left) and Nombulelo Shinta (far right) (Taken: September 2023)

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1 Comment

Feb 17

Amazing work Women RISE team!!

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