Tourism Deputy Minister Tokozile Xasa says the department has several opportunities aimed at helping women who are vulnerable to violence as a result of their socio-economic status.

Speaking on the side-lines of a conference that tackles violence against women on Thursday, the Deputy Minister said vulnerable children and women in poor communities can get help through various awareness and empowerment programmes that the department runs.

She said this as the country is currently engaged in a nationwide campaign on violence against women and children.

The Deputy Minister said the department has set-up a platform called “women in tourism” which gives women an opportunity to tackle barriers that can be seen to be discriminatory in nature against women.

This includes raising awareness on how the tourism industry, which can be labour intensive, should make provision for pregnant women, amongst other things.

“We are working on several opportunities for the empowerment of women.

“We have established as part of our programmes as the Department of Tourism, a programme looking at those entrants in the industry who would want to grow because the industry is not transformed. So there is an opportunity for them to get in,” she said.

She said the programmes look at a wide variety of issues – from giving women in tourism infrastructure, grant funding, skills development and mentorship programmes.

“On top of it, we have identified and we have been skilling young people in required skills within the industry and with the partnership of the private sector, we are giving learnerships and internships to young people and the absorption has proven good which means we are on the right track,” she said.

She said the department was also focusing on promoting social and cultural tourism in poor communities, where elderly women are also taken on tours to explore their heritage.

During one of the sessions during the conference, women spoke about abuse among young children, who due to a lack of education and awareness, find themselves vulnerable to teenage pregnancy, HIV infections and abuse through cultural practices like ukuthwala – where young girls are married off to older men.

The Minister said these campaigns needed to be taken to schools for these reasons.

“The conference begins to say we need to create so much more awareness. But also for those that happen to be very poor, where poverty is affecting them, although it is not a justification for what is happening, you find parents selling their children [to practices such as] ukuthwala .. because they need money.

“You begin to say you need to make those children aware and create opportunities when they are young women. You need to create opportunities that would make them feel empowered economically and also socially through awareness,” she said.

The conference was organised by a non-governmental organisation called Ilitha Labantu, which is based in Gugulethu in the Western Cape.

Ilitha Labantu chairperson Nontutuzelo Mtwana said the organisation, which advocates against abuse of women and children, has been a safe refuge for women ever since it was launched 30 years ago.

She said it has become a platform which empowers women through information sharing and linking them to institutions that can assist them to be economically independent and less vulnerable to domestic violence and abuse.

“The organisation has always believed in sharing of information, creating awareness on services that are available for women.”

She said the conference has created a platform for men and women to interact with leaders of society to come up with strategies to fight against social ills and the scourge of violence and abuse of women.