Cape Town - A Cape Town activist whose dream is to “bring lavender back to the hills” has been recognised by the French government for her commitment to protecting and empowering women and children.

On Tuesday night, on International Women’s Day, Lucinda Evans, who runs an NGO called Philisa Abafazi Bethu (Heal our Women) in Lavender Hill received the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur from Elisabeth Barbier, the ambassador of France to South Africa.

The national order of the Legion of Honour, established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, celebrates the accomplishments of distinguished individuals. South Africans who have received it include Ahmed Kathrada, Desmond Tutu, Kader Asmal, Nadine Gordimer, André Brink and Jay Naidoo.

Evans is the driving force behind the NGO which she started out of her dining room eight years ago, and has since moved into new premises in Grassy Park last month.

On any given day she can be found rescuing children from abusive situations or hiding women from their violent partners.

She’s not afraid of getting her hands dirty. Last year she grabbed a sjambok and took off down the road after a thief who had jumped over the fence of her house and tried to break into the organisation’s van.

Evans said she didn’t know who nominated her for the French award, but had received a call from the embassy.

She said she had met Ségolène Royal, French Minister of the Environment, and ex-partner of French President François Hollande in 2012. “We sat in my wendy house and talked about women empowerment,” Evans recalled on Tuesday.

“What the award means for us is that on International Women’s Day, the spotlight is on women leaders on the Cape Flats,” Evans said, adding that many were working under challenging circumstances without enough support.

She said there was still a long way to go when it came to equality and equity for women in South Africa.

“Women and children are supposed to be protected under the law but what about the 16-year-old murdered near Tokai Forest and the four-year-old turned away in Paarl after being raped?”

Barbier described Evans as a tireless militant and one of the few beacons to show that urgent and collective action was needed to fight the pervasive violence against women and children and attain gender parity.

She said the World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. “Then one year later, in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133 – 117 years to attain gender parity?”

Barbier said France wanted to acknowledge the role Evans played in serving her community through her involvement in human rights. “You are one of the most prominent actors when it comes to citizen engagement in the Cape and in South Africa as a whole.”

The ceremony took place at Alliance Française du Cap, an independent, not-for-profit language and cultural organisation promoting Franco-South African exchange.

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Cape Argus