July 21, 2020 – Across South Africa, since the implementation of a national lockdown and other restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, local and national authorities have noticed a dramatic spike in cases of gender-based violence. Between the period of March 27 – May 31, South Africa’s Police Minister Bheki Cele reported more than 2,300 cases of violence against women, with more than 30 of those murders. Several of these killings took place in Cape Flats, where the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) has deployed its youth empowerment program, the Youth Peacemaker Network.

South African residents learn about gender equality

This situation has shaken the local population and warranted WPDI’s attention and action. After a dialogue with local community and religious leaders, WPDI decided to conduct workshops in Conflict Resolution Education and Human Rights in four townships that have experienced the largest increases in reported cases of gender-based violence, which include Langa, Gugulethu, Nyanga, and Hanover Park. As Reverend Mtombeni, a leader in the Anglican Church in Langa Township told us, “the perpetual and persistent rise in cases of violence directed at women has climbed by more than 500 percent since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, and we must put an end to it. For that to happen, we need WPDI to come in and change the narrative to help people think of and live in peace.”

Home to a combined population of close to 250,000 people, we believe that, with the right tools, each of the four townships can forge its own solution to the issue. To this effect, WPDI will help to sow the seeds of peace in each through a series of training workshops for hundreds of local leaders and residents. By bringing these groups together and teaching them collectively about topics including how to peacefully resolve conflict, successfully communicate, find inner peace, and respect the human rights of others, we know we can start to foster a larger positive transformation. From now until September, these workshops will be regularly conducted by WPDI staff with the support of our aspiring youth peacemakers, who will eventually – upon their graduation later this year from their training – conduct similar trainings in their communities on a regular basis.

Residents of South Africa learn about gender equality

While the ongoing rise in the rates of gender-based violence across South Africa is alarming to say the least, we will continue to respond to the requests of the community and religious leaders who approached us and lead an initiative to address the situation. Through the training workshops we have designed in recent weeks, we hope to empower a new generation of leaders to help transform communities in Cape Flats and put them on a path towards peace.

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