In the month that we recognise 16 days of activism against women abuse, we spoke to a woman who works on the ground to make sure that women access their constitutional rights. Samantha Ngcolomba, a Johannesburg attorney, started Lady Liberty and moves around the country into under-resourced areas and communities to give women free legal services. Here’s how she thinks we can better help women get out of the cycle of abuse.
Don’t look the other way
Fighting domestic violence against women and children was a calling for me. Growing up I saw many cases of physical abuse, two against people close to me. They took no action to end this and it turned into a cycle of abuse. They would keep going back to that same person who abused them, which was one of the main things that motivated me to embark on a law career to fight this.
Teach women their rights
I remember watching an SABC1 documentary showing young women being forced to marry older men – that bothered me. Their rights were being violated. Those situations unquestionably undermine a woman’s sense of worth and independence. I use my skills in law to make women aware of the remedies the law affords them. The law is a tool which someone can use to empower themselves, hence Lady Liberty was founded.
I encourage more women and children out there to seek therapy where needed. It’s honestly the best way to heal.
Help women get financial control
Recently I was in Alexandra, Diepsloot and Westbury. I realised that the level of domestic violence had increased in these communities. I noticed that most women are controlled by their partners. There is also a lot of poverty, so they become financially dependant on the abuser and can’t leave the relationship. We heard many stories of women who claimed to be staying in the relationship for money so they can feed their children.
Give abused women counselling
I was also in the Eastern Cape to partner with other organisations. There I heard a sad story of a girl aged 17, who had a visible scar on her face caused by her ex. The scar was so terrible that I wondered how the ex partner missed her right eye. Yet she told no one, not even her family. Counselling this girl was heart wrenching, but at the same time inspired others to speak up about their own problems. I encourage more women and children out there to seek therapy where needed. It’s honestly the best way to heal.
Encourage women to report abuse
Women need to report violence to the police. It’s hard, but it’s one of the steps one needs to take. Unreported, abuse can become a cycle; for as long as you don’t seek help. Lady Liberty has now developed a means check (they assess the poverty levels). The idea is that we also reach people who can’t afford to travel to us or a psychologist. They do not have to stress about paying fees because we provide free services.