Action speaks louder than words on eradicating GBV
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As National Women’s Month draws to a close on a dastardly note following the brutal murder of University of Fort Hare student Nosicelo Mtebeni, one of the country’s leading voices on transformation, has called for gender-responsive budgets to address violence against women.
Brightness Mangolothi, director of the Higher Education Resource Services South Africa (HERS-SA), said laws would have no meaning if the justice system does not take action and that such horrible, unforgivable crimes must not go unpunished.
“As a society, we need to question ourselves on the role we ought to play in eradicating gender-based violence (GBV).
“We cannot lose sight that we have to work harder to instil humanness in people.
“HERS-SA allows women in higher education to share their challenges and stories to allow for perspective again.
“At times we only need someone to listen and not judge women,” she said.
Mangolothi said HERS-SA has committed itself to collaborate with universities and other stakeholders to fight GBV.
“We understand that a multipronged approach involving both internal and external university stakeholders is the best way to combat this pandemic.
“On the 26th of August, we hosted a webinar titled ’Generation Equality to enhance “oneness and smartness’ in collaboration with Cape Peninsula University of Technology, UN Women and HERS-SA.
The aim of the webinar was to share and discuss partnerships on GBV and gender research and other initiatives; unpack the role of everyone on gender equality and women empowerment and encourage gender responsiveness in administration, support and academic programmes for a safe and inclusive student and staff centred environment.
“We also work with Nelson Mandela University, Gender Transformation Working Group.
“It is through such collaborative effort that we can tackle GBV.
“Importantly, we need to understand that process can only happen if it is supported with adequate human and financial resources, hence the need for gender-responsive budgets.
“It is also critical that we bring men into the conversation; thus, a programme such as UN Women HeForShe is crucial in shifting the status quo,” she said.
University of Fort Hare vice-chancellor Sakhela Buhlungu said the brutal and horrific death of Mtebeni on August 19 was a dark day in the history of the university.
“As an institution, we have never seen or experienced anything of this kind at this university or in this country.
“I stand here and am confident that I’m saying this on behalf of the staff of the university, the senior management, and the students in condemning the brutality of Nosicelo’s death.
“Nobody deserves to die. More so, nobody deserves to die in this horrific manner. There is something so wrong about our society,” he said.
Buhlungu said the university has pledged to work with students, staff, the community, the municipality, provincial authorities and national authorities to address gender-based violence.
“It is for this reason that we appeal to the authorities to work with us to look at the Quigney area of East London because most of our residential arrangements and students are in Quigney.
“Therefore, inevitably, students are exposed on a daily basis to the horrors of the violence, drugs, or murder.
“Everything that is wrong, happens in Quigney.
“And we say to the authorities, enough is enough.
“Let’s do something now,” he said.
Buhlungu said Nosicelo lived in private accommodation outside the control of the university but her death makes it imperative that the university expands its residential arrangements in East London so it is run by the university.
“Nosicelo’s death is very personal to the university.
“We feel very deeply about what happened. It happened during Women’s Month. At the start of this month we declared that this month for us is about honouring and celebrating visionary women. And we have done that and we have highlighted achievements of these women, and we were excited, only for that to be sullied by this ghastly act. We remain in mourning,” he said.
Confronting the causes of Violence against women, Fort Hare’s Rianna Oelofsen said the fight against gender-based violence is a critical one which needs to be won if there is any chance of gender equality in the future.
South Africa is one of the countries with the highest rates of GBV in the world but during the Covid-19 lockdown, she said violence against women and girls shot up.
“There has also been a tremendous rise in mental health issues globally during this time. Is there a causal connection between the mental health challenges that our society has experienced, and the rise in GBV during lockdown?”
A recent article in the Global Mental Health Journal, explores the links between common mental health problems, substance abuse and intimate partner violence (IPV) in Kenya. It was found that unemployment, lack of financial security, and alcohol/substance abuse, are some of the most important concerns facing men.
The article’s authors, Shafer and Koyiet, claim that joblessness, alcohol and crime, mental health and GBV feed into each other, and that mental health support for men could be a preventative measure against GBV.
Oelofsen said insight into the link between these different issues could provide a framework for a novel, multi-faceted solution to the problem of GBV, which focuses on financial insecurity, alcohol, and mental health.
“If these factors are all related, then what does that mean in terms of the change and transformation that needs to take place to create a more inclusive society and economy in South Africa?”
The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) said the grim death of the student and continued killing of women have darkened the meaning of women’s month.
“We view the continued killings of women as an act of confrontation to the law by GBV perpetrators” said CGE chairperson, Tamara Mathebula.
In the past three years, the CGE has been conducting legal hearings to assess gender transformation and gender-based violence at public universities and Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges.
Among other things, the hearings sought to ascertain vulnerabilities and GBV risks experienced by women in institutions of higher learning.
More than 15 varsity heads have appeared before the commission to help the commission understand gender-related problems at their institutions.
One of the numerous recommendations we made, was for the Department of Higher Education and Training to institute policies and procedures to deal with the scourge of gender-based violence at institutions of higher learning.
“We urge the Higher Education Ministry to speedily ensure the implementation of the recommendations we have made in this area by various institutions,” she said.
Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training, Science and Technology, described the death of the student as barbaric and shameful.
He said the department remains committed to creating a safer and caring post-school education and training environment, particularly for female students and staff.
To this end, the Minister said he has tasked Higher Health — an entity of the department which is responsible for implementing programmes against gender-based violence in university and TVET college campuses — to work with the Fort Hare to provide psychological support to students and all affected parties.
>> Edwin Naidu writes for the Wits Justice Project (WJP). Based in the journalism department of the University of the Witwatersrand, the WJP investigates human rights abuses and miscarriages of justice related to SA’s criminal justice system.