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Enabling communities to shape peace together amid COVID-19

International Day of Peace places spotlight on community issues including an increase in gender based violence as a result of national lockdown

Reports of gender-based violence (GBV) have increased exponentially in South Africa since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent nationwide lockdown. This is according to the most recent crime statistics, which indicate that over 87,000 cases of GBV were reported across the country within the first week of lockdown alone.

In light of this worrying trend and to mark the occasion of the International Day of Peace, the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) – a non-governmental organisation (NGO) supported by BNP Paribas and its consumer finance arm RCS, has organised a series of community workshops in the Cape Flats region, aimed at raising awareness of the issue of GBV to combat the rise in violence.  

According to Vikas Khandelwal, Head of Territory for BNP Paribas South Africa, the events form part of a larger five-year partnership between BNP Paribas and the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) in the form of the Youth Peacemaker Network. “We launched the partnership with WPDI in the Cape Flats last year to transform 360 young men and women into peacemakers and entrepreneurs. Since the implementation of a national lockdown and other restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, WPDI has been agile in addressing a new set of challenges which have emerged since the health crisis began, in particular the frightening rise in gender based violence.”

Adding to this, Dr. Chance Chagunda, WPDI Country Co-ordinator for South Africa, says that “WPDI are helping to sow the seeds of peace in local communities by answering the requests of community and religious leaders who have approached us to help address violence and conflict which has been catalysed by a national lockdown. We are utilising workshops to foster an increased dialogue on such matters and collect ideas through education and public awareness on issues related to peace.”

Dr. Chagunda explains that in keeping with the theme of this year’s International Peace Day – Shaping Peace Together – the organisation has planned a number of training workshops for hundreds of local leaders and residents, to be held on the 19th and 24th of September. “These workshops will take place in five communities on the Cape Flats. They will be hosted by the WPDI’s Trainer of Trainees (ToTs) members, who are trained in mediation and conflict resolution, and will pass on the skills that they have learned as part of the Youth Peacemaker Network programme to their local communities. We believe that, with the right peace making tools, these communities can forge innovative solutions in the battle against GBV.”

One of the ToTs who will be assisting at these events is Ms. Piwe Mpahlwa, Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding Trainer, who says that the stress caused by the ongoing nationwide lockdown is definitely one of the big contributing factors to South Africa’s surge in domestic violence.

While factors such as unemployment and poverty have played a definite role in the increase of GBV, alcohol abuse is also largely to blame for the spike in these cases as heavy drinking is linked to the marked increase in the risk of violence. Using our peace-making training afforded by WPDI, we are doing our utmost to train everyone affected by GBV within our communities on how to avoid it and what to do when it occurs,” says Mpahlwa.

As a proud sponsor of the WPDI, BNP Paribas South Africa including its consumer finance arm RCS, has praised the organisation’s commitment to combating GBV and instilling the necessary skills within South Africa’s most vulnerable communities. According to Regan Adams, CEO of RCS – who has a 75% female staff compliment – this is an issue they feel very strongly about and have a vested interest in. “Building strong, unified and supportive communities is vitally important for prosperity throughout South Africa. We are extremely honoured to be associated with this initiative and its ability to adapt within a COVID-19 context,” concludes Adams.

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