South Africa: Lesley Ann Foster

I admire her for her perseverance and her capacity to keep this issue in the mainstream, in a society where too often women fall through the cracks.” Anu Pillay, Ashoka Representative

— Lesley Ann Foster

Lesley was born and raised in East London, in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. She began her career as a salesperson. In 1996, Lesley established the Masimanyane Women's Support Centre; the first organization in the Eastern Cape devoted exclusively to combating violence against women and girls. Through the center Leslie is developing and implementing several services at the grassroots level and leading an initiative to heighten public understanding of the problem.

Lesley Ann Foster began her career as a salesperson and design consultant for a firm in Cape Town. In 1991 she joined the staff of the Daily Bread Charitable Trust in East London. In 1995, Lesley became the personal assistant of the chief executive officer of the Independent Business Enrichment Centre (Ibec). She organized a series of national conferences on micro-enterprise development projects, which exposed her to the problems faced by women trying to establish income-earning projects. This assignment, combined with her personal experience as a victim of sexual and domestic abuse, compelled her to find ways of finding solutions. In February 1996, Lesley established the Masimanyane Women's Support Centre devoted to combating violence against women and girls. Women who decide to get out of abusive relationships and become independent are referred to the local Independent Business Enrichment Centre, a state-funded initiative with offices throughout the country. The women are provided with job skills training and, in some instances, start-up loans for self-employment projects. The Masimanyane Centre has organized a series of workshops on awareness and prevention of sexual abuse for teachers from schools throughout the province. Lesley also hopes to establish a shelter for battered women and their children. She has recently secured funds for this project from the Japanese government. Lesley is also laying plans for a national summit where she intends to propose a "Survivor's Bill of Rights" and to encourage each of the nine provinces to develop its own "No Violence Against Women Action Plan". There are more than 20 women's organizations in rural and urban areas, which provide support services to victims of sexual and domestic abuse in the province.

Masimanyane Women's Support Centre