Statistics have revealed that an alarming 10% of all reported rape cases in South Africa involve young women in higher education.
This revelation is what prompted the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) to initiate its own interventions to fight the scourge of gender-based violence (GBV), especially in the university setting.
Speaking at the UKZN’s launch of its gender-based violence awareness campaign, executive director for corporate relations Normah Zondo said academic institutions were not immune to the societal challenge of GBV.
Zondo said that part of the university’s interventions was to adopt the comprehensive GBV policy that was unveiled on International Women’s Day in March.
She said the policy encompassed three key pillars — creating enabling environments, prevention and awareness, and support and assistance. “In March, our vice-chancellor, Professor Nana Poku, announced the establishment of a new GBV hub to be located in her office.
“The strategic location of the hub will ensure better co-ordination of all our responses to GBV. Most importantly, it also underscores how gravely we regard the issue of GBV in this institution,” she said.
Zondo said the institution was in the process of appointing a strategic co-ordinator for sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
She said that person will be a central figure in shaping and implementing the university’s comprehensive approach to SGBV.
The strategic co-ordinator’s areas of focus will include enforcing accountability measures, enhancing preventive systems, and bolstering existing support and response mechanisms.
“This appointment is critical in instituting a zero-tolerance policy on SGBV across all campuses of the university.
“The co-ordinator will also oversee the revision of existing SGBV-related policies and manage systems for the monitoring, evaluating, and tracking of reported SGBV cases. In addition, the co-ordinator will be responsible for handling confidential complaints received through hotlines and other reporting mechanisms,” she said.
She added that funding of R2,5 million had been raised from donors and will be used to fund the GBV secretariat. Additionally, UKZN has created a specialised GBV investigations unit located at its Howard college campus.
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A panel of speakers shared insight and important statistics in fighting GBV. One of the speakers on the panel, advocate Mzo Kgosi, from the National Prosecuting Authority’s sexual offences and community affairs unit, said the authority realised years back that in its efforts to prosecute perpetrators, it neglected the victims.
“Our focus was on sending the rapist to jail and we neglected the victim. We realised this when we found that some victims would commit suicide after the convictions,” said Kgosi.
UKZN PhD student Banele Zulu shared findings from her research centered on GBV in universities.
Zulu said she found that GBV existed because of patriarchal systems and norms, and as a result, these norms were mirrored in all spheres of society, including academic institutions.
“Gender-based violence is a result of a patriarchal society, and to fight GBV we should focus on addressing issues that enable that system,” said Zulu.
Our campuses are a microcosm of a bigger society and the systems are no different in the university setting.
She said comprehensive education on gender inequalities were necessary to change gender stereotypes, and evaluate whether universities encouraged the patriarchal societal systems.
“Investment in education was vital, instead of investing in the dire and sometimes deadly effects of GBV.”