Accomplished South African Activist Caroline Peters Speaks on Gendered-Based Violence

3 min read

Savannah Brooks ’26

Managing Editor

On Thursday, March 21, South African activist Caroline Peters visited the Smith House to give a talk sponsored by the Office of Study Away as well as the Human Rights, Sociology and International Studies departments. Peters, a staunch advocate against gender-based violence in the Cape Flats, has been working as an activist for over thirty years. Currently, she serves as the Executive Director of the Callas Foundation, a social services organization that works to end gender-based violence. 

In her common hour talk, Peters, who was introduced by history Professor Seth Markle, gave a preliminary overview of the modern history of South Africa and introduced her work as an advocate against gender-based violence. She described women’s role in the fight for independence in South Africa such as in the Sharpeville Massacre, a protest held in 1960 against “black passes,” a tool of segregation. 69 protesters were killed, and Human Rights Day in South Africa is now held on the day of the massacre each year.

After providing historical context, Peters introduced her audience to the Callas Foundation which was established in 2018. She described their numerous facets in detail. The foundation, as Peters told the crowd, works to address the intersection of food insecurity and violence against women with a community kitchen program that feeds 500 people four days a week. Peters said that the kitchen provides a gathering space along with food; even during the pandemic, families would eat outside the kitchen to be close to others. 

Additionally, the foundation aims to increase access to justice for victims by providing them with step-by-step guidance through the court system. According to Peters, judges in the local courts now know the foundation workers quite well and prioritize their cases. Throughout the court process and after, the foundation has psychosocial support (such as support groups and therapy) available to victims to allow them healing and growth. The Callas Foundation also provides support to women who have been incarcerated, assisting in reintegrating them back into society. 

Ultimately, Peters emphasized that in the foundation’s work, they aim to include community structures within its solution of responding to gender-based violence. “You are not the hero,” she tells her activists, ensuring that they become integrated into the community to fully understand the best solutions. In their community outreach, the foundation stages protests on major highways, often wearing bright orange shirts to draw attention to themselves. They also train gender-based violence ambassadors and first responders on the best ways to address gender-based violence. Peters noted that one of her proudest moments was when several of her clients began alerting her to gender-based violence occurring in the line to her community kitchen, allowing the foundation to step in and protect the victim. 

The Callas Foundation’s work is not limited to assisting women; they additionally have a program called Building, Bonding, Beyond (BBB) for young boys aged 11 to 16. The Cape Flats, which is the region Peters and her foundation generally work in, is heavily populated by gangs and gang violence. BBB aims to give young boys living on the Cape Flats an alternative to gang life, empowering them to resist stereotypes and socialize with one another. 

Peters ended her talk with a sobering statistic: in the first three months of 2023, 969 women were murdered in South Africa. While she enthusiastically detailed the vast work her foundation has done, she also made sure to remind us that there is always more.

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