Gender-based violence is the country’s “most complicated pandemic”, says Higher Health chief
South Africa’s government has unveiled measures it hopes will curb gender-based violence in the country’s universities.
The plans are a joint effort by the Department of Higher Education and Training’s (DHET) task team on gender-based violence, and Higher Health, an organisation that works to address health, wellness and developmental challenges in South Africa’s higher education institutions.
At the 5 May launch of the measures in Tshwane, Higher Health chief executive Ramneek Ahluwalia (pictured) called gender-based violence the “most complicated pandemic” facing South Africa. “This is not a pandemic like Covid. There is no vaccine to kill it. GBV is a societal issue,” he said.
According to a Higher Health study, 62 per cent of students in South Africa consider themselves at high risk of gender-based violence, while the same goes for 60 per cent of service staff and 71 per cent of academic staff.
The department and Higher Health have prepared eight protocols that institutions should follow to address gender-based violence.
Firstly, universities should have rape protocols in place that dictate how reports of rape and sexual assaults should be handled institutionally, both during office hours and outside of them.
The second protocol covers safety in residences, identifying risk factors such as overcrowding, and ensuring that there are safe and functional locks for all accommodation. The third protocol is to safeguard students who live in private residences.
The fourth protocol sets out to ensure that all campus security staff are vetted and properly trained, while the fifth aims to safeguard students and staff while they travel to and from campus.
Two more protocols deal with the safety of whistleblowers and abuses of unequal power between staff and students, while the final protocol strives to ensure that all institutions have an office, person or committee responsible for dealing with campaigns to curb gender-based violence on campus.
The DHET strongly urged universities to implement the protocols. “These protocols will be meaningless if they don’t find themselves in the hands of each and every student, lecturer and academic on campus,” said Buti Manamela, deputy minister of higher education and training.