New director is a women’s rights stalwart

Bernadine Bachar has been appointed director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children.

Moving from being a senior family advocate to being appointed director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, was a natural progression for Bernadine Bachar.

Ms Bachar has been active in the protection of the rights of mothers and children since the start of her career 18 years ago. She used to have talks with women housed at the centre, in her role as senior family advocate, and she considers it an honour to have taken up her new role earlier this year.

“This is my dream job. I am living my dream. It is challenging, but truly rewarding. I walk with a smile on my face,” Ms Bachar declared.

She spent the first three months of her new role understanding how the centre operates and what its system is like, including having one-on-one meetings with the staff.

“I am lucky to walk into a platform that was well established by the previous director, Shaheema McLeod. One of the biggest challenges is that the operational costs outweigh the subsidies. So one of our goals is fund-raising. This is also the only facility where boys under the age of 18 are allowed to stay here with their mothers. At other facilities they cannot stay together, and that is why we see so many mothers walking away from the programmes because they are concerned for their children.”

Ms Bachar added that the “end goal would be to put an end to violence”, but that it brings her much joy to see how women are empowered once they have gone through the programme at Saartjie Baartman.

“The opportunity to be involved hands-on in the fight against gender-based violence in our society is an honour. If we are to break the cycle of abuse, we need to assist women and children survivors to heal and lead independent lives. Therapeutic and empowerment programmes are as important as the courts,” Ms Bachar said.

The focus in her first year at the helm will be to secure long-term funding for the services that the centre provides to the community. While it is funded in part by the Department of Social Development, it relies on grant funding and private donations to operate at full capacity.

“A women’s centre of this size is a costly operation, especially at a time that the entire non-profit sector is struggling.”

Among her goals also include helping the women at the centre access legal assistance, community children’s counselling, and having the research facility reinstated. The centre has developed a teachers’ training manual which deals with gender-based violence and will visit high schools regularly to create awareness around it.

And when she is not wearing her director’s hat, Ms Bachar is a single mother of three who enjoys spending time with her family.

Since opening its doors 18 years ago, the Saartjie Baartman Centre has assisted more than 190000 survivors of crime and violence. They offer services such as crisis response, counselling, job skills training and childcare.

In 2016, the centre opened a substance abuse unit, allowing women who are addicted to drugs and in abusive relationships to bring their children with them to a place of safety while they detox.