Dean and Head of the School of Education Professor Thabo Msibi said, ‘This conversation opens critical spaces for dialogue and debate to understand the prevalence of gender-based violence. This is so we can intervene by identifying the steps that need to be taken in order to ensure safer spaces on campus for all, especially women and sexually diverse students.’
DVC and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize revealed that a GBV Committee and Task Team has been established at College level. ‘We cannot remain silent on issues of GBV. Action needs to be taken to bring about change,’ he added.
The dialogue was organised in partnership with Higher Health and the Department of Higher Education and Training. Panelists included Deputy Minister for Higher Education and Training Mr Buti Manamela; Executive Scientist for Research Strategy in the South African Medical Research Council Professor Rachel Jewkes; College of Health Sciences Dean of Teaching and Learning Professor Sinegugu Duma; academic in the School of Education Professor Relebohile Moletsane, Student Representative Council member Ms Oyena Ngcobo and Ms Zanele Hlophe of Student Governance, Leadership and Development.
Respondents were School of Social Sciences academic Dr Lubna Nadvi and Chief Executive Officer for Higher Health Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia. Ms Janine Hicks Lecturer, School of Law, and Chairperson of the UKZN GBV Committee, moderated the dialogue.
Manamela said that recent GBV events at universities and across the country are typical examples of what happens when a man believes he is “entitled” to a woman’s body. He added that GBV is a crisis in South Africa and that he is concerned about the growing number of cases reported at Higher Education Institutions.
‘This is 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 GBV survivors,’ he said. Manamela noted that GBV violates women’s dignity and rights, which affects their educational performance and outcomes. ‘Universities should not hide GBV and rape statistics because this continues to put women in danger,’ he said.
The panellists engaged with students, staff and members of the public on issues of GBV, particularly at universities, its impact on students and the reasons for low levels of reporting while also trying to come up with workable solutions.
Ngcobo spoke from her personal experience of dealing with GBV cases, saying, ‘It angers me that men feel entitled to women’s bodies. This needs to stop. We need to change mind-sets in the communities we come from and be the agents of change.’
Duma added, ‘This phenomenon we see at universities is a reflection of the rape culture in our society. Patriarchy is also entrenched in our society. The perception of inequality between men and women leaves women as lesser beings and manifests itself as GBV that has been normalised.’ She highlighted that universities are an extension of the communities that students come from.
Moletsane argued that ‘the university environment has also allowed GBV and rape to continue because there seem to be no consequences or repercussions for the perpetrator.’ Hlophe noted that ‘men are aware of their actions and choose to respect certain women when in fact all women should be respected. When cases are reported, nothing is done immediately. There is a lack of immediate action against the perpetrator.’ Jewkes called for ‘impunity to end. Cases such as these should be prioritised. We also need to change the way we think and stop victim-blaming. We need to believe the victim.’
Throughout the dialogue, various issues were raised by students such as intimidation by perpetrators; predatory lecturers; lack of involvement by the University in dealing with GBV; drawn-out cases resulting in victims suffering the psychological trauma of seeing and dealing with the perpetrator on a daily basis; coercion to withdraw cases and overall lack of involvement and proper training of Risk Management Services (RMS).
UKZN student Ms Lungile Dube said, ‘We are not safe on campus. GBV continues. We need to know how our safety is going to be prioritised. How do we protect ourselves when our learning spaces are unsafe and we continue to be victimised? There needs to be a designated unit that deals with issues of rape and GBV on all five campuses.’
Respondents Nadvi and Ahluwalia agreed that mechanisms need to be in place to ensure students’ safety. ‘Safe spaces on campus will ensure that intimidation falls away. For now, a possible buddy system should be practiced. Students are calling for RMS to be fixed and that needs to be taken seriously,’ said Nadvi.
Ahluwalia said that, while peer-to-peer education around GBV is required, the efficiency of campus security needs to be looked at. ‘The only way we can prevent victimisation is by ensuring that the survivor sees justice. More and more people will then believe in us and more people will report gender-based violence once they know there’s action,’ he said.