Students Call For More Aggressive Action To Deal With Gender Based Violence

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South Africa is reminded of the ongoing and terrifying issue of Gender-Based Violence and Femicide taking place across the country, but particularly at institutions of higher learning, as another female university student has been subjected to a brutal act of violence at the hands of her partner. 

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University and college campuses in South Africa have become a breeding ground for Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and Femicides, as the South African Medical Research Council revealed some time last year that 10% of all rape cases reported in the country come from institutions of higher learning.

The statistic is nothing short of terrifying, and has become a continuous point of concern amongst women and girls, as well as the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

The South African Union of Students (SAUS) has also voiced its concern around the ongoing assaults and murders of young women in South Africa, almost always at the hands of men, a large number of which are taking place on university and college grounds. 

Although it is encouraged for young women and girls to enter the space of higher education, the fear remains that their tertiary education journey will become a nightmare. 

SAUS member, Asive Dlanjwa, says that South Africa has a crisis on its hands.

"We want to share in the sentiments of the President that it is a pandemic, particularly at institutions of higher learning; because if 10% of all GBV cases are [taking place] in institutions of higher learning, that is critical because it tells [us] that out of a country of about 60 million [people], institutions of higher learning have just less than 2 million students. In a population of less than 2 million students, you are having 10% of all Gender-Based Violence perpetuated in that space, so that tells us that it is absolutely a crisis," said Dlanjwa.

Dlanjwa went onto clarify that although a concerning amount of GBV cases are taking place within tertiary education spaces, it is not an issue that is specifically confined to universities and colleges; across South Africa, it is a significant problem.

However, Dlanwja also says that we need to figure out why higher education campuses are becoming some kind of hot spot for GBV to take place.

"We probably need to ask the question, 'why does it find so much expression within institutions of higher learning?'; could it be due to high alcohol abuse (which is quite prevalent around institutions), and many other things that we have to deal with. Unfortunately, at the core of this surge, is men, that's the reality. We really have to ask 'what is it about the space of higher education that breeds such violence in young men'," he elaborated. 

South Africa's higher education institutions have experienced a number of tragic and horrifying cases of GBV in recent years.

The highly-publicized and unforgettable murders of young women, such Uyinene Mrwetyana, a student at the University of Cape Town (UCT), Jesse Hess, a student at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), and Nosicelo Mtebeni, a student at the University of Fort Hare, amongst others, have rocked the nation. 

Just this week, South Africa mourns the loss of another female student, a third-year at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), whose boyfriend is under investigation for the brutal murder. 

Dlanjwa says as a student union, SAUS is incredibly concerned about this issue, and realises that there are many factors that contribute to the prevalence of GBV and Femicide on campuses, such as the lack of adequate safety at student residences. 

Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, has expressed that the accommodation shortage as well as poor safety measures and infrastructure exposes students to immense vulnerabilities, such as serious crimes and Gender-Based Violence, and that the Department, alongside the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas), have been working to solve part of this problem.

SAUS has been advocating for safe student accommodation facilities, saying that the majority of the students who have been victims to these crimes have been living in off-campus accommodations that are often unsafe and not conducive, and do not meet the necessary requirements for safety and security. 

"It's the beginning of the year, students are going to be coming onto campuses. The majority of them will not be admitted into those institutions because of a lack of capacity, some of them will not have accommodation when they arrive, so they become vulnerable to being sexually exploited and becoming victims of Gender-Based Violence, because they are being promised either admission or residence," explained Dlanjwa. 

Although it is true that off-campus student accommodation can be dangerous, the same can be said for official university and college provided residences; GBV can take place anywhere, no matter the circumstances and no matter the person.

It is not always the stranger, or someone's partner that could be the perpetrator; it can even be tertiary institution officials who oversee the registration and accommodation period at varsities, and who therefore take advantage of a student's desperation for a place within an institution. 

Dlanjwa says it doesn't just stop there. Student leaders themselves also make promises to students, using their leadership status to prey on and exploit those they are meant to assist. 

"There's the issue of their [the student's] boyfriends, the people they are living with at home, there's university and college officials, then there's also student leaders. And in most cases, students will interact (when they get into institutions of higher learning) with student leaders before they interact with university officials," stated Dlanjwa. 

Dlanjwa says that government has not been attacking the "pandemic of GBV" with the same aggressiveness that was used to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, and that we are unfortunately still experiencing the violent and toxic tendencies of previous generations in households that are raising the youth.

Because of this, South Africa is seeing the likes of incredibly young men perpetuating that same violence onto their female counterparts. 

"I think we need to deal with it [GBV and Femicide] with the same aggressiveness [as Covid-19]. We've been saying to institutions of higher learning, that when they were dealing with Covid-19, they were able to arm students with sanitizers, masks, etc. What have you [institutions] materially armed our students with; what is it that when they exit class, they are materially armed with to be able to respond to the surge of Gender-Based Violence?

The reality is, except for a few leaflets here and there, there is nothing aggressive, and if government and all sectors of society take a more aggressive approach in a sustained fight against GBV, we probably will be able to make a dent against the surge of GBV," he explained. 

Nzimande has previously called for the correcting of the toxic mindsets our society enables in young men and boys, stating that "At the centre of my argument is the necessity to grapple with formation of masculinities in our families, communities and society as a whole, as a critical dimension to take forward the struggle for gender equality and women’s emancipation." 


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A woman holding her hand up with the message 'Stop GBV'

Students at higher education institutions have called on universities to prioritise their safety against Gender-based Violence and Femicide on campus. 

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