Johannesburg, 14 March 2023: South African women from 31 organisations across six provinces walked away with awards in seven categories at an emotional ceremony on International Women’s Day. “You made the choice to be a voice,” said Canadian High Commissioner Christopher Cooter as he officiated at awards marking the end of the first phase of this unique fund, one of the few in South Africa to focus on women’s rights.

From 6-7 March 54 entrants made presentations at the Premier hotel in Pretoria. The 21 awards (10 winners and 11 runner ups) covered leadership; organisational growth and development, Gender Based Violence, Economic Empowerment, Social Media, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Youth Empowerment. Western Cape with seven winners scooped the most number of awards followed by six from Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal respectively and two from Limpopo.

Looking across at Union Buildings Tinyiko Ngwenya, director of Bellona Female Network said she realised that “the power does not lie in the Union Buildings. The power is in us.”  Bellona walked away with two awards – one on social media and another on leadership.

The youngest participant, 18 year old student Jade Swartz said “This day means everything”. Swartz, from New Heritage Foundation, won the runner up in the Youth Empowerment category. Her organisation also won the award for Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights described by the judges as a project that is outstanding in its “innovation and impact, working in schools on menstrual health, with girls and boys, and now moving to the national level with the Dignity Campaign.

In her speech Swartz said, “I have learned that you can dream it, believe it, achieve it.”

Sasopsbiz Foundation from Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal won the Economic Empowerment award. Judges said, “The Phakamisa Girls Economic Empowerment (PGEE) is a holistic approach to economic empowerment for young women with great results – quantitative and qualitative. The planned research and documenting learning will be of immense value to all in WVL.

Mikhulu Trust from Western Cape, won the award in the Gender Based violence rapid response category for their innovative creation of facilitating dialogues between parents and children using wordless books. Judges called these: “very educative and insightful scientific evidence of early child development. The programme’s link to reducing violent behaviour later in life makes it a refreshing intervention in GBV primary prevention.”

Thenjiwe Ngcobo, the executive director of Incema, jointly won the leadership award with Bellona. She said: “To Global Affairs Canada, we want you know that WVL funds were more than just money, it allowed us to have voice to reach communities beyond our capabilities.”

The awards coincided with the Commission of the Status on Women 67 (CSW 67) annual meeting at UN headquarters in New York under the banner: Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. In her key note address, former UN Women Executive Director Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said, “I am delighted to learn that you touched on this theme and many more in the just ended summit.”

South Africa’s former Deputy President also applauded Global Affairs Canada (GAC) for its feminist foreign policy and for appointing Gender Links, a leading Southern African Women’s Rights Organisation to manage WVL in South Africa.

The Women’s Voice and Leadership fund aims to ensure the increased enjoyment of human rights by women and girls, and the advancement of gender equality in South Africa. WVL supports women’s organisations and movements that seek to empower women and girls and advance the protection of women’s and girls’ rights in line with Canadas Feminist International Assistance Policy.

WVL-SA has committed over R22 million in grants awarded to 71 organisations. The project has reached over 63 045 beneficiaries in rural and urban areas, reaching 52% women, 46% men and 1% persons living with disabilities and LGBQTIA+ persons, see the project video here.

Commending the innovative work by grantees, GAC Head of Development Co-operation Carine Khawam quoted Mother Theresa: “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Ambassador Cooter reiterated Canada’s commitment to “helping women leaders and feminist groups accompanying peace and protecting the rights of women, and that will include new global funding for the women’s voice and leadership program”.

“This is not the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning“, said GL Special Advisor Colleen Lowe-Morna. She noted that thanks to WVL, GL now has a vibrant Grant Making Unit, that now also manages the #VoiceandChoice Southern Africa Fund for Amplify Change. She noted that one of Mlambo-Ngcuka’s favourite sayings is: “when you have the power use it.” Lowe-Morna told the grantees: “you have the power! Use it!”

By Nomthandazo Mankazana Mokoa, Grants Co-ordinator WVL

For more information or contact details of the grantees contact the grants coordinator, Nomthandazo Mankazana on / 082 560 0066 OR visit the WVL-SA website Follow our Facebook page and Twitter for more on the summit and the Women’s Voice and Leadership South Africa Project.