“I knew. I saw the signs: being controlling, possessive,” Mandy Maduro told the BBC in 2018.
Mandy, whose boyfriend stabbed her multiple times, is one of many women speaking out against intimate partner violence in South Africa, a state where the femicide rate is five times the global average.
It was Mandy’s story and countless unreported cases of intimate partner violence that convinced Ogaufi Mampane, assistant director of South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation and a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow, to turn her attention to women’s rights in the country.
“When I heard these women’s stories,” Ogaufi says, “I thought to myself, ‘We need a sisterhood. A network of women supporting one another.’”
For Ogaufi, that network is YAYA Sisterhood Initiative, an organization bringing together survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) for counseling, support and — most importantly — a listening ear.
“We have a big problem on our hands,” Ogaufi says. “Even if we are talking about intimate partner violence on social media, we are not getting at the root of the issue. That can only be done by talking to women.”
YAYA Sisterhood South Africa, now a collection of survivor stories, will soon become a virtual meeting place for women, connecting survivors and providing them with counseling in a safe, inclusive environment.
Among the challenges women in South Africa face in addressing GBV is financial dependence, as a number of women don’t have the means to leave a dangerous, domestic situation.
“In addition to being stuck in these relationships, these women don’t have the means to seek the psychological help that they need,” Ogaufi explains.
These financial concerns are compounded by what Ogaufi sees as unnecessary antagonism between women.
“A lot of women turn a blind eye to the abuse that they see,” Ogaufi says. “They think they shouldn’t get involved, that doing so would jeopardize their friendships.”
“But if we as women are being oppressed, we need to stand together.”
Equally important for Ogaufi is earning the trust of GBV survivors, as many are unwilling to share their painful — and at times traumatizing — stories.
“These women are in a difficult situation, one still more difficult to understand if you have never experienced this violence.”
To address this challenge, Ogaufi aims to connect survivors with those who have been through similar experiences and can relate to them in ways both new and nuanced.
“Above all, we need to be humble in our approach,” Ogaufi explains. “No one knows exactly what a survivor has gone through, but if we listen closely and give them the space to share their story, we can make a small but important difference in their lives.”
In times of doubt, Ogaufi likes to think about her young daughter and the world in which she wants her to grow up.
“I want her to grow up in a world that’s fair and just,” Ogaufi says. “And if she is ever a survivor of this kind of violence, I want her to know that she has women she can call on, women she can talk to.”
“In the end, we are not countries with borders,” Ogaufi says. “We are brothers and sisters.”
Interested in Ogaufi’s story? Learn how you can support the rights of women and girls on our Africa4Her page.
Ogaufi is an assistant director at South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation and is responsible for bilateral relations between South Africa and the central African countries of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Sao Tome and Principe. These relations include economic cooperation and people-to-people exchanges. Ogaufi holds an honors degree in international relations from the University of Johannesburg, where she majored in political risk and international political economy.