‘Gender-based violence is real’

MATTHEW HIRSCH

Just keep doing what you’re doing because you know you can.

This was the main message at a gender equality session hosted by Sea Point police at the Winchester Mansions.

Police and women from the community attended the event which had been organised by Sergeant Gail Dyssel, sector commander at the Sea Point police station.

Speakers included divorced mother of five, Regina Bessick, who recently obtained her Master’s degree in theology; Juanne Waites, who owns a consultancy and Bonita Blankenberg, who works for a company which provides technology to assist blind professionals.

Heather Tager, chairperson of the Sea Point Community Police Forum, welcomed everyone to the event on Thursday April 7, saying: “We need to promote women empowerment and gender equality with a view to improve the overall quality of life for women.

“We are here to acknowledge the struggles that women go through on a daily basis,” she said, adding that there were shining examples of women who were challenging gender norms and excelling in all spheres of society.

Ms Blankenberg, who works in Sea Point and lives in Hanover Park, said she has been blind since birth, but did not let this keep her from pursuing her goals.

“There are so many things we, as women, need to be thankful for. Emotionally we are so much stronger. There is a lot that women have to deal with every day.”

Despite being blind, she said: “My father decided there was no way I was going to be spoilt.”

She said she first went to boarding school when she was three years old and this helped her gain her independence quickly. “That made me realise that being blind didn’t mean I was going to get special attention. There are so many things that women are dealing with on a daily basis that people do not know of. We just have to keep doing it. I don’t have to tell you how to make it work. The truth is, you are already doing it.”

Ms Blankenberg, now 34 years old, graduated with a journalism degree and had various jobs before she started working with Edit Microsystems, which develops technology that helps blind professionals with everyday activities.

Among these tech items are braille tablets which can be plugged into a computer, giving the blind person access to the internet and applications such as WhatsApp.

Ms Waites, from Retreat, who worked with the police for many years, recently started her own consultancy, working with service providers such as police, social workers and community organisations and helping them understand human behaviour and the criminal justice system.

“We are in a society and community that teaches us roles and we need to change our culture and the way that we think. Don’t for a minute think that because she is wearing a uniform that she is not subjected to any kind of violence or abuse. We are all faced with the same kinds of dangers. Gender-based violence is real.”