Gender-based violence on campuses now a crisis – Manamela

News 24

The alleged events surrounding the recent death of 23-year-old Rhodes University student Khensani Maseko are a typical example of what happens when a man believes he is "entitled" to a woman's body, said Department of Higher Education and Training Deputy Minister Buti Manamela.

Manamela was speaking at an imbizo at the Tshwane North College Mamelodi campus on Monday in the wake of Maseko's death.

It is suspected that Maseko took her own life on Friday after battling with depression resulting from her alleged rape, said to have occurred in May.

Manamela added that Maseko's death highlighted that gender-based violence was now a crisis in South Africa. He said the growing number of cases being reported at higher education institutions was also a concern.

"This terrible tragedy outlines that this is now a crisis, a two-fold crisis. On the one hand, the persistence of unrelenting incidents of [gender-based violence] on our campuses and on the other, a dire need for psycho-social support for survivors of [gender-based violence]," he said.

Manamela added that gender-based violence violated the dignity and rights of women, which also affected their educational performances and outcomes.

No entitlement in relationships

The imbizo at the college was part of a national movement to start addressing and finding alternative solutions to the challenge of the safety of students in institutions of higher learning.

It aims to reach out to all 26 universities in the country and 50 technical and vocational education and training colleges, driven by the education department and its Health, Wellness Development Centre (HEAIDS).

Manamela said young men in particular should be the first to join the fight against gender-based violence, say "no to sexual harassment" and put an end to it.

He added that it was now time that men also understood that they were not entitled to a woman's body, even if they are in a relationship.    

Manamela said such gatherings would also create awareness around the seriousness of gender-based violence, with the goal of changing men's behaviour and creating efficient support systems for victims at institutions.

In his engagement with the students and staff at the college, he also encouraged victims to report their abuse to the authorities.

'It's the small things'

"We are determined to learn from these discussions in order for us to bring about a sector-wide strategy which can align with national legislation, both within and outside of the higher education and training system," Manamela said.

Manamela said the imbizos would also allow victims to speak out so that perpetrators can be exposed.

"As young men, we are the first ones who should say no to sexual harassment. It is all the small things that we are not conscious of. We need to rise up and fight to end gender-based violence," Manamela said.  

He said a gender-based violence policy framework would be issued for public comment.

Manamela added that once the framework was finalised, HEAIDS would act as the implementing agency of the department at institutions.

"We call on every student and staff member within our sector to be part of this real transformation. We can do that by respecting women's dignity and rights every single day," CEO of HEAIDS Ramneek Ahluwalia added.

'We do not rape ourselves'

Ahluwalia said the policy framework would have a comprehensive implementation plan that would include, among other things, peer-to-peer education, campus-based dialogues and psycho-social and medical support for survivors.

Many in the packed hall were also given the opportunity to voice their concerns regarding gender-based violence.

Most students said it was now time for action as they believed that enough talking had been done.  

Female students also spoke about how they were not taken seriously when they report issues related to sexual harassment, while others said men should be included in the dialogue.

"We do not rape ourselves, it is men who do so and they should therefore also be equipped, educated and included in dialogues, in trying to stop gender-based violence," a student said.