Addressing sexual and gender-based violence one campus at a time

As South Africa marks National Women’s Day on 9 August, Mamelodi’s Tshwane North College held an Imbizo dedicated to strengthening the response to rape and gender-based violence (GBV) that happen at education institutions and in communities where students and staff come from.

 The Deputy Minister of Higher Education began the Imbizo by asking for a moment of silence for Khensani Maseko. “This terrible tragedy outlines that this is now a crisis, a two-fold crisis. On the one hand, the persistence of unrelenting incidents of GBV on our campuses and on the other, a dire need for psycho-social support for survivors of GBV. Mental illness should be tackled in the same breath as GBV, as one causes the other.”

Today’s Imbizo is part of a national movement to amplify conversations about the safety of students in institutions of higher learning. It is driven by the Higher Education and Training Health Wellness and Development Centre (HEAIDS), the implementing agency under the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), 26 universities and 50 TVET colleges which are part of the public post-schooling sector, as well as UN Women and other partners.

During his engagement with students and staff at the college, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Buti Manamela, said: “GBV is a violation of dignity and rights which compromises women’s health, wellbeing and educational performance and outcomes.

 “Imbizos like the one we are having today provide the platform for sharing information and interrogating complex issues that will allow us to understand the root cause of gender-based and sexual violence. We are determined to learn from these discussions in order for us to bring about a sector-wide strategy which we can align with national legislation, both within and outside of the higher education and training system,” said the Deputy Minister.

 He pointed out that imminently, a comprehensive GBV policy framework will be issued for public comment, after a year of research and consultations with the education institutions, experts working in the field and other relevant parties. He explained that when finalised, HEAIDS will act as the implementing agency of the Department, leading the roll-out of the policy framework across the sector.

 “South African women have played an integral and rich role in the positive transformation in the country. We celebrate the National Women’s Day. But, as too many chilling headlines and personal testimonies remind us – we have a long way to go to ensure a truly transformed South Africa where women and men stand equal, and where boys grow up basing their behaviour towards girls, sisters, mothers and other women on positive role models. The Policy Framework was developed on this premise.

“We call on every student and staff member within our sector to be part of this real transformation. We can do that by respecting girls’ and women’s dignity and rights every single day,” says Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia, CEO of HEAIDS.

 

He further stated that Higher Education Policy Framework will have a comprehensive implementation plan that will include:

  • Peer-to-peer education and campus-based activations and dialogues to serve both for preventative and emergency-management purposes.
  • National sector wide Prevention Campaign, focussing on education and awareness
  • Psychosocial and medical support for survivors.
  • In- and out-of-classroom training as well as capacity development for staff.
  • A safety audit across campuses to inform further measures to improve safety.

 Ms Mulalo Mutheiwana, a Masters student from Vaal University of Technology, said to her peers and leaders attending the Imbizo: “I am not victim – I am a survivor of my own story. Attempting suicide is not weak, Khensani was not weak, she was drained by the world not doing anything about abuse.”

Initiating discussions like these and involving people who are at risk or have survived a traumatic experience are precursors to further steps to protect students and staff, improve access to services and care and intensify meaningful legal responses to these violations.