Project Empower is a registered non-profit organisation established in 2001 based in the province of KwaZulu Natal at the Diakonia Centre in Durban. Initially established to strengthen HIV community HIV prevention responses, Project Empower has been building the capacity of women in communities to address the joint drivers of both violence against women (VAW) and HIV for over six years.
Project Empower has worked with more than 100 community based groups and nongovernment organisations in the KwaZulu Natal, Eastern Cape and Limpopo Provinces.
Over the years, we have focused more and more on gender inequality as a significant driver of HIV. We have realised through our work, and this is validated by research, that the unequal position of women in society, along with class and race inequalities, places poor, black women, at risk of ongoing violence and abuse from men which then increases their risk of HIV-acquisition. In addition, gender inequalities are also a major risk factor for HIV-acquisition independently. Whilst equality and legal redress are constitutionally guaranteed when inequality is experienced, poor, black women experience continued high levels of physical and sexual abuse and violence and inadequate access to state services. We see HIV-acquisition as one element of the structural and interpersonal violence that is the daily experience of poor, black women.
Project Empower has worked on a number of projects that have sought to reduce gender inequalities and in turn women’s experiences of physical and sexual abuse including developing and implementing the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures intervention (supported by the JGF) in conjunction with HEARD and the SA MRC.
Through Project Empower’s Mkabayi, women from poor communities in KwaZulu Natal take action to realise their full rights to equality and freedom from discrimination, including freedom from material deprivation and dependence on men, from gender based violence and from HIV and its impacts. Mkabayi works with poor, black women to develop and support a leadership cadre based in communities that defends and advances the rights of women, leads women through a consciousness raising process that develops an understanding of women’s rights and mobilises women for activism and solidarity. This is in line with a growing body of research that emphasises the power of community mobilisation and activism, as well as strengthening women’s access to land rights and productive resources, as central pathways to reducing HIV-vulnerability and violence against women.