South Africa has taken a significant step towards curbing gender-based violence at institutions of higher learning.
Higher Health South Africa on Friday released a set of instruments, guidelines and protocols that will help turn the sectoral GBV Policy Framework into practical implementation across campuses at institutions of higher learning.
The document containing these protocols was released during a webinar on GBV in the higher education sector.
The instruments give directives to all institutions and management in higher learning to operationalise the necessary infrastructure for a comprehensive response to cases of sexual and gender misconduct, rape and sexual assaults.
This will help turn the sectoral GBV Policy Framework — launched by the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation last year — into action through the implementation of guidelines on sexual and gender related misconduct in Post-School Education and Training (PSET) institutions; implementation of the protocol on rape and sexual assault cases, and implementation of the protocol on the PSET Code of Ethics.
Working with judicial and police services, the guidelines and protocols will ensure the reporting of cases; the maintenance of disciplinary systems; safeguarding evidence; provision of rape kits; psychosocial support services and survivor-friendly infrastructure are rolled out across the sector.
Higher Health CEO, Professor Ramneek Ahluwalia, said the GBV Policy Framework pushes every institution of higher education to have structures, infrastructure, systems and controls when it comes to GBV, just as it was done with HIV and Aids, and with current the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ahluwalia said the early diagnosis and detection of abusive relationships will only be achieved through education and prevention programmes.
“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.”
Ahluwalia said capacity is needed in the form of security, survivor support (including the establishment of safe rooms, psychosocial support), and close partnerships with the judiciary to ensure justice is served.
Understanding threats and behaviour inside institutions
The Representative for UN Women’s South Africa Multi-Country Office, Anne Githuku-Shongwe, said in order to ensure that men and women in tertiary institutions are able to operate freely, one needs to know and understand what the threats are and the behaviour inside and outside the institution.
Githuku-Shongwe said the leadership of every tertiary institution should make it their business to ensure that they do not have cases of GBV under their watch.
From a prevention perspective, Githuku-Shongwe stressed the need to be able to identify norms, beliefs and stereotypes that perpetuate violence in and around universities and colleges.
“We need to understand this… [by doing some] really close profiling and mapping, and conducting targeted conversations and processes [to] ensure that we can actually change the game.
“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 said there must be proper follow up, possibly every quarter, to reflect on the work done at institution level.
“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.
Silence isn’t golden
Chairperson of the Higher Health GBV Technical Task and University of South Africa Vice Chancellor, Professor Puleng LenkaBula, called for a culture of zero tolerance towards all instances of GBV on campuses and society.
LenkaBula said there should be no silencing of the voices of those who are agitating against violence.
“A culture of silence often creates room for this terrible behaviour and violence. 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.