The CIEE Global Institute in Cape Town proudly hosted writer and poet Siphokazi Jonas for the annual CIEE Global Institute lecture series for Spring 2019. The lecture series was titled “A Celebration of Women’s Rights”. The CIEE GI lecture series is a forum for a diverse range of academic engagement with the goal of bringing students closer to the local community. The event was evidence that CIEE is committed to promoting a sense of community in its Global Institutes around the world and acknowledging the importance of women’s rights.
The lecture was aptly held at the District Six Homecoming Centre which serves a “homecoming centre” for returning families who were removed from their homes in the District Six area by the apartheid government, and a centre for education and memory work. The Homecoming Centre, in its artwork and décor, humanises the lives, culture and stories of past District Six residents. The Homecoming Centre was beautifully set up so that attendees of the lecture could share a meal and conversation together before the lecture. The atmosphere in the room was warm and inviting and was felt by all in the room as study abroad students mingled and conversed with each other, local students, and other guests from local communities.
The event did not take the form of a standard lecture - instead, the guest speaker engaged with the audience, making the experience feel more like a communal space, embracing the theme of community associated with both the venue and the topic. Rather than taking us through a typical lecture, Siphokazi performed the stories of four women and shared her poetry with us. She shared with us that the purpose of this was to look at art as a form of theorizing about lives of women. In sharing the stories and experiences of women she has encountered we would share our space with them and acknowledge the different roles women take on in their lives. The stories were about women from different religious, economic, and cultural backgrounds as well as the stories of women of different generations. She told each of their stories with care and humour. Each story highlighted not only the struggles of the individual women but of their communities – one story spoke of struggles of mental illness at university, one of alcoholism, and another of the struggles of homelessness.
During the reflection after the lecture, an audience member remarked how it is remarkable how women hold space for each other and essentially highlighting how even in the case of women’s rights, women create and turn to community in order to survive and thrive. The atmosphere in the room after the lecture was just as warm and inviting as before and we were collectively moved by the stories we had heard.
Thank you to Siphokazi Jonas, CIEE, and the student life team for all your preparation and for allowing us to come together and celebrate women’s rights through embracing community.