South Africa: Empowerment and skills for women’s development
14 March 2019

Arrupe Skills Center's students during the make-up class / Image: Irene Galera (JRS)
Education is the first step to claim for their rights, as women and as integrated members in their host community

“I am a woman. I am powerful, I am a role model, and I am intelligent. I have a heart of gold.” This is what one of the students of the Arrupe Women’s Skills Centre wrote when she was asked to define women.

Siting in a dimly-lit, tiny room, she and ten other girls participate in Abbie Adeola’s hairdressing class. “I love my job,” explains Adeola, “I have empowered myself, now I empower other women. When they are educated, they go far.”

The Arrupe Women’s Skills Centre, run by the Jesuit Refugee Service South Africa (JRS) in Johannesburg, offers vocational training to refugees, asylum seekers, and local women. The beneficiaries can attend hairdressing, beauty (nails, massage and make-up), computer, and English classes. The same programs are offered at JRS’s Loyola Women’s Skills Centre, in Pretoria.

“The aim is to equip them with skills to become self-reliant and get employment,” states Tereda van Heerden, manager of both the Arrupe and Loyola Women’s Skills Centres. Some participants even start their own businesses –which also creates new employment opportunities in the community.

Most of the students come from the Democratic Republic of Congo  (DRC), Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Burundi. Xenophobia, racism, unemployment, exploitation, language barriers, documents, sexual and gender-based violence, or raising children as a single mother are all difficulties faced by women who have been forced to leave their home country behind.

“Women go through a lot,” says Ofentse, a make-up teacher at both JRS’s Women’s Skills Centres. “The main challenge that my students face is to look at themselves and find their worth. You still have to emphasize them that they are worth to use the skill, to be out there, to do something else”, stresses. 

Education is the first step for them to claim their rights as women and as integrated members in their host community.

“I spent three years without a job”, says Joy Opara, a mother of five and a refugee from Nigeria. She has been living in South Africa for nine years but she could never get a job. She was selling on the streets with her husband, but they could no afford the license. “It gets difficult to feed my children, pay rents, school fees. It is painful.” She decided to join JRS’s beauty classes to change her situation. “It is important to study, staying at home does not help.”

For a hairdresser like Mujinga Tsuibwabwa Didi, an asylum seeker from the DRC, JRS’s training is a good opportunity to further develop skills to enhance her professional career. She has even more pressure to prove her expertise, as jobs are not easy to find for asylum seekers. She has been waiting to get refugee status for more than ten years. 

“I want to have my own place [to] do nails, massages, and make-up,” explains Vanessa Wanzio. She used to be a receptionist for a hotel in South Africa, but she has not been able to find work for the past three years. “It is very difficult because South Africans go first.” She recognizes the importance of community discussion and support and states that  the Arrupe Women’s Skills Centre allows her to share the problems she and her female peers face among other women.

For Thato Masuku, a social worker at Arrupe and Loyola, “This [Arrupe] is a development centre, we don’t just give them the skills. We give them empowerment tools: workshops, how to start a business, health, hygiene, group counseling in order to get educated from their peers… We help them to see who they really are and to be self-dependent.” 

Because they are powerful, educated, and empowered. Women will go far.

Check out JRS's video on women’s education at Arrupe Women’s Skills Centre.

Press Contact Information
Mr. Tim Smith
+27 11 618 3404