Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) crimes against women across South Africa show no signs of abating.
But a particularly disturbing element that has come to light of late is the lack of safety faced by women on campuses of tertiary institutions.
According to MRC research studies conducted in 2012, 10% of all reported rape incidents come from the higher education sector, Higher Health South Africa said.
Female students fall into the most vulnerable demographic, and are at the highest risk of being sexually assaulted.
Higher Health’s research also suggests high levels of alcohol and drug use are common GBV risk factors, and are often prevalent on and off campus.
This week marked two years since University of Cape Town (UCT) student Uyinene Mrwetyana was raped and murdered by Post Office teller Luyanda Botha on 24 August 2019.
Just days ago, a final year law student from the University of Fort Hare, Nosicelo Mtebeni, was murdered and dismembered, allegedly by her boyfriend, Alutha Pasile.
Is enough being done?
UCT vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng this week urged all South Africans to take action against SGBV crimes, and that the victims of such crimes are the country’s responsibility.
“I am asking you to make a commitment to do what you can to protect the future they hold. Because there are effective actions each of us can take,” Phakeng said in a statement on Tuesday.”
She said the plight of students being targeted in SGBV crimes meant the country was being robbed of its bright stars, and called on the men of UCT to “rise up and help to hold each other accountable for the attitudes, unconscious behaviour and direct actions that contribute to SGBV.”
“Every womxn who is destroyed by SGBV had something to offer her family, community and country.”
Campaigns for change at UCT
UCT said in a recent statement they were participating in the Post Office to Parliament campaign, set up by the Uyinene Mrwetyana Foundation, in collaboration with the Office for Inclusivity and Change (OIC).
The campaign petitions Parliament to end the violence against and exploitation of women and girls.
The OIC also runs an Empowered Through Vulnerability support system, for survivors of SGBV crimes.
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This campaign involves weekly live engagements on life after sexual violence and post-traumatic growth, and features input from expert panellists and sexual violence survivors from the UCT Survivor Support Group.
All engagements are streamed live via Zoom and Instagram Live.
UCT has also committed to upping campus safety of all students, by increasing patrols.
A mobile kiosk has been set up to monitor the movement of vehicles, and campus protection services have increased foot patrols. Security staff will also be more visible, UCT said.
How to keep female students safe
The Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation launched a sectoral GBV Policy Framework in July last year.
To bolster this, Higher Health South Africa released guidelines and protocols on Friday, to bring the policy framework into action across all campuses.
The guidelines deal with implementing reporting sexual and gender-related misconduct in post-school education and training (PSET) institutions, implementing protocol on rape and sexual assault cases, and creating the PSET Code of Ethics.
Reporting cases, maintaining disciplinary systems, keeping evidence safe, providing rape kits, psychosocial support services as well as survivor-friendly infrastructure are just some of the politicise that Higher Health is helping roll out.
Higher Health CEO Ramneek Ahluwalia said the GBV Policy Framework forced every higher education instution to ensure it had infrastructure and controls when it came to GBV, just as with HIV/Aids, and the Covid-19 pandemic.
She also pointed out that education and prevention programmes were key to detecting abusive relationships early on, to prevent more GBV-related cases.
“There is a lot of work that needs to happen… We should also be ready… to intervene… [to] stop GBV on our campuses. For that, we need to put structures, policies, infrastructure, systems, and controls in place [including] safe guarding evidence, should a case of assault, rape or GBV happen on our campuses.”
Know your threats
The United Nations Women’s South Africa Multi-Country Office representative, Anna Githuku-Shongwe, said it was integral that men and women knew and understood what threats were, and how to identify toxic behaviour both inside and outside a higher education institution.
She said this was why every institution had to make reaching this knowledge it their business, to prevent any GBV cases.
Githuku-Shongwe said part of this prevention was the ability to identify norms, belies and stereotypes that perpetuate violence in and around universities and colleges.
“We need to get inside the head of young men and boys in our institutions to really understand, and provide the support they need to be able to drive this work,” said Githuku-Shongwe.
She stressed that follow-ups, possibly every four months, had to be done to reflect on the work done and if more support was needed.
“We at UN Women are going to stand here to provide that support. We will continue to provide the technical support that is needed to rollout the monitoring of this GBV Policy Framework.
“We want to continue working with you in coordinating safer cities and safe public spaces…” she said.
Higher Health GBV Technical Task chairperson and Unisa vice-chancellor, Professor Puleng LenkaBula said a culture of silence created more room for instances of abuse, violence and death.
Creating platforms for people [address issues] should be something that campuses allow, and they should enable the reporting of sexual violence, sexual harassment, GBV, or any acts that disabled the full participation of [all],” LenkaBula said.
Compiled by Nica Richards. Additional reporting by Thapelo Lekabe