Sewing and crafting empower women

Shirley Gunn and her team at Umoja Wamama Crafters Cooperative discussing the way forward in their venture. From left are Shirley Gunn, Jaqueline Sibomana, Sindiswa Ningiza, Lena Madolo, Theresa Mukankusi, Esperance Nibakure, Theresa Uwimana, Speciose Mukamucuzi, Epiphanie Mukasano and Feroza Cader.

The Umoja Wamama Crafters Cooperative (UWCC) is a collective of women from across the continent who come together to share their skills in sewing and crafts so they can each earn a livelihood.

The cooperative, which has 19 members, held their quarterly general meeting on Human Rights Day, Wednesday March 21.

They make beaded jewellery, handbags, children’s toys, cushion covers, aprons and table mats; knitted and crocheted scarves, shawls, cowls, baby clothes and blankets; and also do tapestry and mosaic work.

Eighty-five percent of craft revenue goes to the crafter and 15% to the cooperative.

UWCC was registered by the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPRA) in March 2015.

Run by anti-apartheid activist Shirley Gunn, it also provides opportunities for women refugees of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Rwanda to gain employment. Many of the women who work for UWCC expressed their gratitude for the opportunity provided by the organisation.

Lena Madolo, 71, from Khayelitsha never had the opportunity to get a school education. She grew up always doing things with her hands and with UWCC she got an opportunity to work with women who shared similar experiences. Speciose Mukamucuzi, 61, from Rwanda, went to secondary school in her country of birth.

She worked as a teacher and showed other people how to use the sewing machine. She said the work at UWCC makes her calm and happy and helps her to forget about her problems.

Feroza Cader, 48, from Bonteheuwel, was a former member of the Bonteheuwel Military Wing, which was made up of teenagers and school pupils standing up to apartheid during the 1980s.

She met Ms Gunn three years ago and joined the UWCC.

Epiphanie Mukasano, 56, from Rwanda, says UWCC promotes human rights and dignity as everybody has a right to work.

Ms Gunn, who is also the executive director of the Human Rights Media Centre, spoke of the challenges in setting up a cooperative. “We set up a cooperative which is bound in its identity as a place for all, it is not only for South Africans or refugees, it is for all of us together to learn each other’s skills and become one family, but when we register a cooperative with the Department of Trade and Industry, they will only accept South African identification documents. It is a matter that we still want to take up with the Department of Trade and Industry,” said Ms Gunn.

UWCC thanked the 35 women who donated materials to UWCC.

Any donations can be delivered to 41 Salt River Road next to the Human Rights Media Centre or it can be collected. Anything from printed or plain cotton fabrics and thread, linen embroidery cloth, felt, tapestry canvas, wool, crocheting yarns and needles, scissors, beads and sewing machines no longer in use will be welcomed by UWCC.

Contact Shirley Gunn on 021 761 3303 or