Fellow Since 1992
This profile was prepared when Lynne Brown was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992.
Lynne Brown is working to improve women's capacity to participate in the creation of a "new" South Africa, through an original leadership and skills training program for women. In the first democratic elections of May 1994, Lynne was elected as an ANC member to the Western Cape parliament, where she now serves as the "shadow" minister of Education.
The New Idea
The Women's Leadership and Skills Training Project provides leadership development and technical-skills training to women at the grassroots level. Commonly referred to as the Women's College, it seeks to change existing cultural and institutional attitudes about gender relations and women's position in society. It will develop an institutional model of women's leadership training that will potentially reach women throughout the region. More specifically, the project will service the South African women's movement and, by linking different groups, and improve the effectiveness of the disparate women's structures throughout the country.In the face of myriad demands and pressures within the democratic movement that mitigate against a focus on gender issues, the Women's Leadership and Skills Training Project will equip South African women with the necessary skills to influence the agendas of the government and the progressive movement. No institution or opportunity exists in the region (and perhaps on the African continent) to provide training in the critical areas of women's leadership and development. The Women's Leadership and Skills Training Project will decisively strengthen the quality of women's leadership in communities and at the national level.The project offers training to women at the highest levels of electoral politics and to women working at the grassroots level. It provides training to women from the Women's Alliance, a broad structure of all political women's organizations, churchwomen, stokvels (rotating credit and savings groups), trade unions, businesswomen, women working in development, and women organized in rural areas.
Globally, women's leadership potential is a relatively unexplored area of development. Women's participation in electoral and non-governmental politics and development is marginal. In Africa, "women's participation" usually refers to women's involvement in small-scale income generating activities; in this regard, South Africa is no exception. The patriarchal underpinnings of the apartheid state have effectively undermined the position of women and reinforced gender inequality throughout society and its institutions. Rapid and widespread violence and social disintegration, pervasive throughout South African society and particularly acute within black communities, has further eroded women's confidence, status, skills, and opportunities to participate fully in development at home, in the community, and within the larger progressive movement.As progressive movements in South Africa struggle towards a democratic and peaceful alternative, women and gender issues remain peripheral to the overall thrust for liberation. South African women are critically scrutinizing the failures and successes of the Mozambiquan, Botswanian, Namibian, and Zimbabwean liberation movements to incorporate women's emancipation into their struggles. Women from the bordering states and newly independent countries are actively supporting the South African women's struggle for representation and participation in negotiating South Africa's new political settlement. They communicate a vivid understanding of the differences between "lip service" to gender issues, policy, implementation, and empowerment, and of the spurious refrain, "national liberation first, women's liberation second."South African women currently have a small platform from which to agitate. In the work force, women are largely unorganized, and where they are organized, (such as in COSATU, the largest trade union confederation in South Africa, in which women make up 36% of the membership), there is not a single women in the national leadership. In communities, women are marginalized from local decision-making councils, and within political structures, women have minimal representation at leadership and decision-making levels. Hours of debate over women's representation at a recent ANC conference resulted in no women elected at the national leadership level and only 9 women elected to the 50 member National Executive Committee. In the household, women are violated and repressed, resulting in a rate of domestic violence twice that of the United States.South African women, to some extent, have successfully pressured political and community organizations to place gender issues on the agenda; i.e., they have made some progress at the level of "lip service." Women have not yet made significant inroads at the levels of representation and leadership, policy, and implementation. These continue to be definitive practical and forthcoming challenges to South Africa's struggle for full-scale national liberation.
The Women's Leadership and Skills Training Project aims to develop black working-class leadership potential and increase women's participation at all levels in society. Lynne is consulting widely with a range of women's organizations and service groups nationally and internationally to develop an accessible, flexible, institutional approach, as well as a feminist and vocational curriculum. By developing effective, confident women leaders at the grassroots and intermediate levels, the project seeks to foster community development in townships with increasing numbers of women-headed households, increase organizational capacity to deal with gender issues, and to help women develop economically viable skills.The first intake of trainees represent organizations often asked to put women forward for working committees dealing with gender issues. The Project develops and increases the pool of women within the first and second tiers of leadership within organizations, and equips them with skills necessary to effectively impact policy and process on gender issues at national and local levels. The second intake equips women active at the grassroots level with skills to more effectively empower their peers.An example of such training took place three months before the election of a squatter committee in the Western Cape. Lynne trained eight women in public speaking, problem solving, and squatter camp politics. Four of the six women now serve on the executive committee of a previously male-run camp, and another has started a day care facility in the camp. In another instance, during the 1985 unrest, Lynne taught women first-aid techniques in order to avoid the common occurrence of arresting injured people at hospitals.The Women's College has begun to offer classes and is currently developing a pilot curriculum. Courses and training will be offered in three basic areas: women, development and feminist theory; organizational development and leadership training; and practical skills training. Subjects will include Women and Development, Communication and Media Skills, Organizational Recruitment and Fund-raising, Executive Functions in Organizations, Campaign Development and Implementation, Policy Analysis, Home-building, Electronics, Car Maintenance, and more.Training sites are decentralized and located in local schools and community centers in both urban locations and rural areas, as well as at the Centre. The project identifies teachers from universities and service organizations, individually and organizationally. Participants undergo teacher and peer evaluations and receive a diploma upon successful course completion. Participants attending courses for more than three months also receive small scholarships. The Project also provides transportation and childcare facilities.
Although only 30 years old (at the time of her election), Lynne Brown has a distinguished record of public service. At the age of 15, she was a youth leader in the Anglican Church and established consciousness-raising groups for the aged and unemployed within the community. Later, as a high school teacher, she organized mass education programs and worked for several years on the education crisis.In women's organizations, Lynne has been active at the leadership level in the Western Cape for ten years. In 1982 she pioneered the formation of the Hewat Women's Movement and later organized branch programs and campaigns under the auspices of the United Women's Organization. Lynne served on the executive board of UWO and ran education and training courses for organizers and administrators. She helped merge two Western Cape women's organizations into the United Women's Congress and participated in the formation of the Federation of South African Women, a broad-based women's federation in the Western Cape. Lynne served on the coordinating committees to reestablish the Western Cape region ANC Women's League and was responsible for all educational programs.The Women's Leadership and Skills Training Project is an avowedly non-partisan initiative. In order to minimize any perception of partisanship, Lynne recently stepped down as an ANC Women's League executive committee member.Lynne has also coordinated and administered a wide range of organizations, institutions, and projects. These include the National Organization for Appropriate Social Services in South Africa, the Community Arts Project, and the Learn to Live Education Program for street children. Lynne has been involved with numerous community committees and issues, including the Taxi Crisis Committee and the Crossroads Crisis Committee.Lynne has published a collection of writings by women in prison and serves as an Advisor to the United States-based Global Fund for Women.