for tomorrow

NMMU News

23/05/2017

Gender-based violence – a term used interchangeably with violence against women – is a widespread and critical issue in South Africa that requires effective and efficient action that goes beyond the campaigning and sloganeering.

In South Africa over the past few weeks, the national debate has been around the myriad of cases of women and children sexual abuse and femicide, many at the hands of their intimate partners or close relatives. Statistics paint a horrid picture of these heinous crimes, with the country notorious as the rape capital of the world.

These statistics, however, are sadly just the tip of the iceberg as many cases go unreported because of major inefficiencies in the system that do not inspire enough confidence among complainants that justice would prevail.

This is largely because the burden of proof still lies with the complainant, inadvertently acting as a deterrent to reporting, as survivors opt out of what many see as secondary trauma being inflicted upon them as well as a long drawn-out process.

Violence against women has been a problem for many years, with its prevalence in the Higher Education sector, foregrounded in recent years.

One would be aware of the student marches at Rhodes University as well as the anti-rape march by our students last year, where the issue of rape culture was thrust to the fore, unearthing the extensiveness of the problem in tertiary institutions.

At the core of the students’ issues seems to be the systemic challenges within institutions in dealing with reported cases – often deterring complainants from laying formal charges or, once laid, withdrawing them.

This has forced authorities in the sector to do some introspection into the manner in which such cases have previously been dealt with and put forward effective alternative solutions to adequately address the issue.

At Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, a number of processes have been set in motion to strengthen and improve its efficiencies in dealing with issues of gender-based violence.

These include the revision of the current Sexual Harassment policy – reviewing the reporting protocols and capacitating those who act as the first line of contact when cases are reported with the necessary skills to receive statements in an enabling environment.

There have been a number of workshops conducted in line with these interventions, the latest of which was held last week (17 May). Key amendments to the policy include the establishment of an alternative formal disciplinary process for both staff and students, in which the hearing panel will comprise a legal professional or legal academic with expertise in human rights law and/and or gender equality as well as an appropriate professional who works in the gender-based violence sector. This revision aims to ensure that the process is conducted with the necessary urgency and sensitivity required for this category of misconduct.

In addition, revisions also entail improvement in the provision of psychosocial support for both the complainant and the alleged perpetrator. The principles of restorative justice and advocacy are also embedded in the revised policy to ensure that perpetrators take responsibility of their conduct.

The University is also looking into the existing Staff and Student Disciplinary Codes, to emphasise the gravity of such transgressions by having a dedicated section that deals specifically with matters of sexual harassment and sexual offences.

At a national level, the Department of Higher Education and Training has set up a 15-member task team to develop a policy framework relating to sexual violence and gender based violence, aimed at  assisting institutions in dealing decisively with, among other things, the concerning issue of what is widely known as “sex for marks”. This is a phenomenon where lecturers use sex with students as an exchange for better marks. The task team will be undertaking a sectoral policy review process and developing strategic programs for sexual violence and gender-based violence in the Post-school education sector.

Survivors of gender-based crimes are urged to report these incidents to the South African Police Service and the relevant campus authority for the case to be taken up by Protection Services, which works closely with the Transformation, Monitoring and Evaluation office as well as Legal Services. Cases may also be reported electronically via the following address: harassment@nmmu.ac.za. Additional information and resources can be accessed on the following website: http://tme.nmmu.ac.za/sexual-harassment.

The University remains committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all its staff and students and will work to speedily conclude the policy review process. This with the aim to reinforce and strengthen the mechanisms available to report and effectively address such transgressions.

Dr Ruby-Ann Levendal
Director Transformation Monitoring and Evaluation

Contact information
Ms Ruby-Ann Levendal
Director: Transformation (Monitoring and Evaluation)
Tel: 27 41 5042612
Ruby-Ann.Levendal
@nmmu.ac.za