For Dr Tasneemah Cornelissen-Nordien, a social work practitioner, her work has always been about helping vulnerable people.
Prior to joining Stellenbosch University (SU) as a lecturer in the Department of Social Work, she spent years doing community work at organisations such as Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (RAPCAN), Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Africa, and Youth Outreach. Her work focused mainly on supporting sexually abused children, which also became the topic of her PhD that she completed in 2019.
As part of commemorating South Africa's Women's Month, she tells us more about her work.
Tell us more about your research.
My research interests are predominantly related to children. My PhD focused specifically on sexually abused children, and the lack of services available to them as well as to their caregivers.
Why or how did you become interested in this specific research area?
Before joining SU, I worked as a social worker in the sexual offences court. There, I became acutely aware of the need for empowerment services for sexually abused children, as well as support for their caregivers. There was a clear lack of services – not only for victim support at the court during the trial, but also for healing. So, when I started my PhD, I wanted to investigate the nature of the available support. My research confirmed the lack of, and dire need for, support services, particularly in rural areas.
Why do you think this is such an important area of research for women/young girls in South Africa (and globally)?
Child sexual abuse has become commonplace in society, and it is often girls who fall victim to this abuse. In my research, it also became apparent how particularly girl children are forced to use their sexuality to earn a living for themselves and their families, thus falling victim to sexual abuse, in so-called “blesser-blessee" relationships. In these relationships, girls are seen to “benefit" financially and materially from having sexual relationships with older men. Girls and women, therefore, must be empowered not to depend on their male counterparts, but to be equal partners in society. Where nurturing, education and care are a priority, sexuality is not seen as a commodity.
The pandemic has changed the way we work and live. What keeps you motivated during these times?
The lines between work and home have become very blurred and everything has indeed changed. I have always aimed to keep work and home life separate to ensure that work does not interfere with being a mother and wife, but now my home is a place of work, leisure, play, school, daycare, aftercare and, most of all, a place of safety.
So, what keeps me motivated? My girls mostly. Imaan (8) and Abrar (3) keep me on my toes. The girls are vibrant, strong-willed and energetic. I want to set the best example I possibly can, and show them that women are strong and can achieve whatever they want, as long as they work to earn it. At the same time, though, girls also need supportive and loving males in their lives, whether fathers, grandfathers or uncles – men who are not intimidated by strong women.
Tell us something about yourself that few people would expect.
I am shy, and more of an introvert than most would think. I prefer doing all the behind-the-scenes work, and I value my husband's input a lot.
What would your message be for the next generation of women researchers?
Set your own objectives, feed your own interests, and never measure your achievements or success by others' achievements and publications. Your achievements are yours.
Click here to read more about Dr Cornelissen-Nordien's research work.