Poor health is pervasive among farm workers and is compounded by the nexus of gender based violence (GBV), alcohol dependence and HIV/AIDS. In 2005, the United Nations confirmed the global universal in South Africa of the intersectionality of HIV/AIDS and GBV. According to the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), 16.5 per cent of South Africans have been involved in relationships characterised by intimate partner violence (HSRC, 2004). At the same time, a study conducted in ante-natal clinics in South Africa found that HIV infection was more commonly found among women who were in abusive relationships.
Through WFP's work and interactions with farmwomen, we know that alcohol is usually implicated in most incidents of GBV, particularly the "domestic" violence experienced by farmwomen at the hands of their male partners. Alcohol abuse is one of the most critical and immediate health issues facing farmwomen. SAPS crime statistics in 2008 show that most crime in rural areas is committed on farms, and 80% of these crimes are alcohol-related. On average, 60-70% of cases dealt with by the SAPS in rural areas of the Western Cape are rapes. In 2007, the Northern Cape and Western Cape had the highest and second highest incidences (respectively) of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in the world. Attributable to the legacy of the "tot"1 system, alcohol consumption by farm workers is twice that of the urban poor. The psychosocial impacts of alcohol abuse and FAS are still pervasive in the farmlands, contributing to risky and unsafe sexual behaviour, and thereby potentially contributing to greater HIV infection rates.
The Women's Health and Empowerment Programme (WHEP) aims to ensure that farmwomen's health needs and rights are accessible and respected, and that these women are empowered to take individual and collective action around abuses of those rights in the home, workplace and community. WHEP seeks to build the knowledge, skills and confidence of farmwomen to enable them to know, claim and realise their rights to physical and mental health, safety and security. With an emphasis on the right to health, and an understanding of farmwomen's contextual circumstances, WHEP consistently and explicitly highlights the intersectionality between alcohol (and substance) abuse, gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS.
Health Team: WHEP works through farmwomen volunteers or Resource Agents (RAs) who make up farm-based Health Teams. They are trained in various health issues, including sexual and reproductive health, GBV, alcohol dependence and HIV/AIDS. Health Teams play a leading role in health education and mobilisation at the farm and community level.
1 The "tot system", where farm workers were partly paid with alcohol, can be traced back to the colonial and slavery era of the 1600s and was still pervasive in the 1990s, especially on wine farms. Although officially outlawed in the 1960s, the tot system was still practiced on many wine farms right up to the 1980s. Today, there are suggestions that the "tot system" has taken on new, covert forms. For example, when farm workers buy alcohol from farmer's shops (at inflated prices and on credit), very little of their wages remain after the farmer has deducted the alcohol debts due to him.