Universities South Africa (USAf) News Update

Universities' response to GBV could be more effective -- launched from a solid resources and policy base

A shortage of resources and inadequate policies were last week presented as main obstacles in fighting the scourge of gender-based violence in institutions of higher learning. This emerged during a third in a series of four webinars being held in commemoration of Women's month of August to explore gender issues from different perspectives. The title for last Wednesday's webinar was: Using a multi-stakeholder lens to understand and address gender-based violence in higher education.

This series is being hosted by Universities South Africa (USAf)'s Transformation Managers Forum (TMF) in collaboration with Higher Education Resource Services-South Africa (HERS-SA). The TMF is one of USAf's numerous communities of practice (CoPs). These are forums via which USAf facilitates engagement among professional groups representing all universities for information-sharing, collaboration and a joint pursuit of solutions to system-wide challenges.

Higher Education Resource Services South Africa (HERS-SA), for its part, is a non-governmental organisation dedicated to the advancement and leadership development of women in the Higher Education sector. HERS-SA works in partnership with Higher Education Institutions to support their gender equity agenda.

Panelists at the webinar converged on the point that the absence of dedicated funding to curb gender-based violence within higher education hampers the effectiveness of existing initiatives.

Ms Nonkosi Tyolwana
The DHET needs to first understand the nature and scale of gender-based violence at universities, to enable effective response to the problem -- with adequate resourcing.

Illustrating this point, the first panelist, Ms Nonkosi Tyolwana, Director: Transformation, Social Cohesion and Diversity Unit at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and a member of the TMF, lamented that the response and care units at various institutions are extremely overstretched. She said due to the high volume of students -- taking into account even the ones that reside off-campuses -- universities do not have adequate budgets to provide the required support. For a remedial action, Tyolwana urged the Department of Higher of Education and Training to take the trouble to understand the nature and scale of gender-based violence (GBV) at universities. She also appealed to the DHET to consider reviewing their funding model towards programmes being implemented in response to this scourge.

She drew attention to the six pillars of the national strategic plan on gender-based violence and femicide guiding higher education, saying they ought to be thoroughly synchronised with government structures to respond adequately to GBV in institutions, including at students' residences. Namely, these six pillars are: (I) accountability, coordination and leadership; (II) prevention and rebuilding social cohesion; (III) justice, safety and protection; (IV) response care, support and healing; (V) economic power; (VI) research and information management system.

Tyolwana's emphasis was on pillar three. "Universities need a structured and coordinated government support with Justice, Crime Prevention and Safety (JCPS) clusters such as South African Police Service (SAPS), Department of Social Development (DSD), etc. This is essential for all universities to benefit both on-campus and off-campus students and staff."

Citing the need for a central database of perpetrators, she said a university can fire a GBV perpetrator as soon as the individual is proven guilty, only for the perpetrator to be appointed in another institution and continue with his/her transgressions. Her final recommendation was that holistic and organised relationships within the Post-School Education and Training (PSET) system are crucial for sharing research agendas, lessons and best practices. Furthermore, she said that USAf needs to play a strategic role by bringing these conversations to the attention of those who control purse strings.

In support of the views expressed above, the second panelist, Dr Rosaline Govender, Chairperson of the Durban University of Technology's Gender Forum, also blamed the absence of statistical evidence for hampering the fight against GBV. "Insights to gender-based violence at our institutions are limited...and that needs to be rectified," she said, also condemning the silence, on GBV, in universities' curricula, and the absence of policies guiding institutions on how to tackle this scourge.

The third panelist, Dr. Ramneek Ahluwalia, Chief Executive Officer at Higher Health, echoed these sentiments.

"We think the first respondents, being security guards, know what to do - they don't. Even academia don't know. In Post School Education Training, each institution has to develop its own policy on gender-based violence," he said.

He argued, though, that the Department of Higher Education and Training -- alone, cannot succeed in curbing what he termed a 'complex pandemic', further pointing out that even the South African Police Service still need to be thoroughly trained in dealing with this problem.

GBV is a complex pandemic which the DHET cannot curb on its own, Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia, CEO of Higher Health, said.
Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia
GBV is a complex pandemic which the DHET cannot curb on its own, Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia, CEO of Higher Health, said.

Adding her voice to these debates, one of the webinar attendees, Dr. Ruby-Ann Levendal, Director: Transformation (Monitoring and Evaluation) at Nelson Mandela University, proposed appointment of "a sectoral Ombudsperson to deal with cases where internal processes fail the complainants... Charters, pledges and policies are there, but implementation and commitment to these are absent," Dr. Levendal said, further adding that "in each of the universities mentioned by the speakers, "we have seen GBV and other violations against mainly females but also LGBTIQA +."

Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize
Find dedicated champions, as institutions, to push these conversations on your behalf, said Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize, Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and People with Disabilities.

As the fourth panelist and respondent representing government, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and People with Disabilities, concurred with the view that the policies developed with the rise of gender-based violence thus far had not yielded the desired results. She highlighted that the PSET sector has an opportunity to provide leadership in terms of curbing the scourge. "Irrespective of all the challenges that have been put forward here, these institutions are a hub of knowledge and a broad range of skills, so we expect more from this sector in evaluating policies that are still being developed," she said.

Regarding the allocation of adequate budgets, the Deputy Minister encouraged institutions to identify champions and dedicated individuals to advocate for the sector and push these conversations and initiatives on their behalf. "This should help to source funding from government departments and other organisations," Prof Mkhize concluded.

Also contributing as a panelist at the webinar was Ms Nazeema Mohamed, Executive Director at Inyathelo. Up to 59 individuals were linked to this webinar at its peak. They represented universities, government entities and non-governmental organisations.

In celebration of the Women's month of August, the TMF is collaborating with HERS-SA in hosting a series of webinars on the following topics:

  1. The Impact of COVID-19 on women in higher education
  2. Gender Transformation in higher education
  3. Using a multi-stakeholder lens to understand and address Gender Based Violence in Higher Education
  4. Intergenerational leadership conversation in higher education

Background: USAf's TMF is an assembly of all universities' transformation managers tasked to achieve a transforming, diverse system of Higher Education. In their quest to accelerate and deepen transformation within the university sector, the TMF develops short, medium to long-term strategies to address transformation matters in the sector. This community of practice also draws attention to emerging good practices while flagging practices with potential to undermine transformation in the sector. In line with this mandate, TMF's priority focus areas for 2020 include positively influencing the higher education sector responses to gender-based violence.

The Writer, Nqobile Tembe, is a Consultant commissioned by Universities South Africa.

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