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Johannesburg, 26 November 2021 – Gender-based violence (GBV) continues to plague communities across South Africa. Higher education institutions are not immune to this alarming trend of sexual violence, with increasing incidents being reported across our campuses and their surrounds.

Although greater awareness about GBV exists both in society and in higher education institutions, there has been a chronic lack of policy implementation and provision of complainant-centred supportive systems to prevent and respond to GBV at higher education institutions.

“Most higher education institutions in South Africa actually have policies that address GBV, however, the challenge is in the implementation of these policies,” says Dr Ruby-Ann Levendal, Chairperson: Sexual Harassment and Offences Committee at Nelson Mandela University. ‘’Policies that have been developed by institutions, are often poorly implemented, with stakeholders involved in the various elements of the complaints’ process not treating these incidents with the sensitivity and urgency required to support and protect the complainants,’’ she says.

In the build up to the annual 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign in 2020, the Department of Higher Education formulated a policy framework to assist in eradicating gender-based violence in the sector. The policy framework aims to work as a guide for each and every campus to address GBV, offering guidance on how sexual violence should be reported, the investigation of GBV cases and consequence management. It also defines what type of behaviours constitute as GBV, as well as setting out baseline principles. All institutions were required to provide progress reports relating to efforts undertaken to align with the GBV policy framework.

Many GBV incidents are not reported, which remains a significant challenge to addressing GBV at higher education institutions. “Complainants need to have trust in the system to deal effectually with their cases, ensuring that the perpetrators, who violated them, are held accountable and appropriate penalties applied,” says Dr Levendal. “Too many times cases drag on for months on end without being resolved. We tend not to celebrate our successes (however small these may be), when perpetrators are found guilty and sanctioned. By communicating these across our campuses, students should gradually develop an appreciation that their voices are indeed being heard and responded to. We need to continue advocating against GBV, challenging behaviours that undermine our human rights and dignity,” she says.

In order to monitor and identify hotspots, the University has procured case management software that will also assist in focusing the interventions based on the trends being extracted from this system. In addition, both Emthonjeni Student Wellness and Student Health Services have developed a joint effective and efficient online case management system for recording GBV data to avoid duplication in reporting. The system classifies clients as new cases, which are incidents that occur and are reported within the current calendar year, while past cases refer to incidents that occurred prior to the current calendar year or before the client was a student of the University.

“Another factor that would greatly enhance the implementation of the GBV policy framework is the provision of relevant sectoral capacity development opportunities,’’ says Dr Levendal. Nelson Mandela University implemented a streamlined reporting process in 2020, resulting in an improvement in the effective resolution of GBV cases. According to Dr Levendal, upon analysis of the 85 cases reported in 2021, nearly double the number reported in 2020, the overwhelming majority of cases involved students and were linked to substance abuse. “To inform effective interventions, we are planning to initiate a research project to understand the underlying factors students are grappling with that are leading to the excessive use of alcohol and other drugs,” says Dr Levendal.

Nelson Mandela University, as an engaged institution with renewed commitment to actively fighting this ongoing GBV pandemic on our campuses, continues the work towards ensuring a safer and inclusive environment for all across the gender spectrum.

“We are encouraged by the support that Executive Management has shown in providing funding for the implementation of various advocacy programmes as well as the provision of GBV support groups for females, males and non-binary students,” says Dr Levendal. “We have made great strides in the integration of our efforts to effectively and efficiently respond to reported GBV cases, while simultaneously advocating for equality and the appreciation of the rights of all to work and learn in a safe environment, free of any form of gender-related violations,” she concludes.

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777