The African continent has experienced high levels of violence and brutalisation and needs empowerment. Empowerment means different things to different people and at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), we understand this well. Our work embeds empowerment both as an approach and as an outcome of our activities and interventions. Since its establishment in 1989, the CSVR has upscaled
empowerment efforts, inculcating them in all that we do across the various components of our work. We adopt a multi-disciplinary approach through our three programmes: Research, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services (MHPSS) and Advocacy.

Empowerment through research: Studying violence to inform evidence-based interventions.

We study violence, to understand what causes it, what drives it, and it is this understanding that in turn informs our contextually-relevant interventions and recommendations to leaders, community members and policymakers.

"It is widely believed that knowledge is power, but as the Centre, we further believe that understanding, particularly of violence, is empowerment as it galvanises targeted and informed action". Our research continues to inform actions of various stakeholders. For example, our 2011 research report, The Smoke that Calls, highlighted the root causes and key drivers of violent protests and collective violence in South African communities
and is rich in recommendations to leaders, at multiple levels, on what needs to be done. The key drivers of violence found in the 8 communities interviewed and the recommendations made in that report still ring true to the multi-faceted violence we experience today.

Our 2017 research, Violence against Women in South Africa: A Country in Crisis, set off a chain of events that saw women march to the Union Buildings to hand over a petition to the President regarding the high levels of GBV and femicide in 2018.

The high-profile study influenced public discourse and sparked the political recognition of violence against women as a nationwide crisis and the development of the National Strategic Plan on GBV and Femicide (NSP-GBVF). Our 2022 research report, Lived Realities and Responses to SGBV, conducted in 8 communities experiencing high levels of GBV highlights the lived realities of community members and their experiences of GBV, the root causes and key drivers of violence in these communities and it also outlines multistakeholder recommendations.

Empowerment through MHPSS services: Healing societies and communities one leader, victim and family at a time. 

Our mental health and psychosocial support work seeks to empower communities, groups, families and individuals to not only heal from the consequences of trauma in the now but also from generational trauma. We believe that the inner healing work from past and present trauma that our clients go through, is not only for themselves
but also benefits future generations. Our approach to victim support and their healing emphasises an empathic, person-centred assistance through which nvictims are supported and empowered, and where they are restored to a state as close as possible to the state they were in before the violation and the victimisation took place, and ideally to a state where they are able to learn and grow.

We provide a holistic and integrated approach to healing and empowerment. CSVR also provides psychosocial wellness interventions for organisations aimed at building organisational internal capacities to facilitate the development of a resilient and sustainable social justice sector.

We recognise that individuals in institutions and in the workplace are not immune to the violence and trauma around them, in fact some may be victims of trauma, both present and historical. In order for organisations and institutions to deliver high quality services and interventions, a trauma-informed approach to organisational wellness, that acknowledges the impact of working with trauma and violence on individual and organisational wellbeing, is an important one. This approach addresses team dynamics, individual healing and organisational understanding of its people to promote wellbeing and resilience in the social justice sector.

We have provided this support and empowerment through our Psychological Wellness Programme to community-based and civil society organisations in South Africa, The Gambia, South Sudan, Sudan, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Guinea, amongst others. Our work with leaders focuses on their mental wellbeing, incorporating aspects of trauma healing, deepening resilience practices, becoming effective and people-centred leaders and improving how one interacts with the work they do and the organisation which they lead.

Our approach to wellness for leaders incorporates aspects of performance anxiety and self-worth as well as techniques for emotional regulation, exploring meaningful coping strategies with both personal and work-related matters. There has been a focus on key issues that are often difficult to confront including difficulties with understanding one's own personality in relation to other colleagues, issues of identity, power dynamics and racism. Our work is rooted on the premise that a healthy leader is a conduit of wellbeing for their colleagues and is able to guide the organsational culture towards wellness.

Empowerment through Advocacy interventions: Building local and
continent-wide capacities to respond to violence and conflicts. 

Our advocacy work is anchored on building local capacity in each country to respond to the consequences of violence, conflicts and gross human rights violations. We provide capacity building and technical support to policy-makers and political actors, where we share policy recommendations informed by the lived realities of those most affected by violence and conflicts. We believe that policies, human rights instruments and laws passed at all levels should address, and aspire to provide solutions to the lived realities, experiences and challenges faced by those most affected including victims in all their diversity. Capacity building and empowerment for peer civil society and community based organisations entails trainings on various themes of our work including human rights, transitional justice, collective violence SGBV, sharing our own learnings from diverse contexts and work undertaken over the past 34 years, skills transference on advocacy and research as well as content support for campaigns and policy-making processes at localised and national levels.

Our advocacy work also establishes networks and maintains these, to amplify voices on advocating for change at various levels, and to continuously shape public discourse and improve practice through debates, reflections and sharing of best practices. We believe in partnering for greater impact and empowerment. Our advocacy work also empowers victim groups through facilitating their access to human rights mechanisms for redress and justice. To date, CSVR has provided technical support to the African Union to develop the African Union Transitional Justice Policy which was adopted by Heads of State and Government on 11 February 2019, after almost 10 years of developing this widely-consultative continental policy.

Through the Pan African Reparations Initiative (PARI), a network coordinated by CSVR, of about 48 civil society organisations providing both legal and psychosocial support services to victims of torture in Africa, we worked with partners to support the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa to develop the African Commission on Human and People's Rights' General Comment No. 4 on the Right to Redress for Victims of Torture in Africa (adopted in February 2017 by the African Commission).


This article was originally published by the Top Empowerment Publication 


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