Gender-based violence and sexual harassment have long been a recognised problem in South Africa. The country boasts notoriously high rape rates, and these have spurred a national agenda of research and public activism over the last two decades. In May Naledi Pandor, then Minister of Higher Education and Training (DHET), appointed a Task Team to advise her on how to help to prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence at universities.
Among those appointed was Dr Robert Morrell, internationally recognised for his gender research, which has included a focus on violence, schooling and masculinities. The other members of the Task Team are Professor Jackie Dugard, Professor Pumla Gqola, Ms Sisipho Palomino Jama, Ms Corinne Knowles, Dr Babalwa Magoqwana, Mr Jerome September and Professor Malehoko Tshoaedi. The Task Team is supported by the university education branch of the Department.
In creating the Task Team Minister Pandor indicated that she remained “concerned about the prevalence of sexual harassment and gender-based harm in our public universities and believe that there is a great deal of work that can be done to improve our understanding of the situation in all our universities; share good practices across the sector; and advise on policy frameworks; minimum basic levels of services for reporting, referrals and support for staff and students; and other mechanisms to reduce sexual harassment and gender-based harm in our universities.”
“Achieving gender equity in South African universities will never be possible if we do not address cultures of sexual harassment that can have a serious effect on the lives and experiences of students and staff at universities, and if we do not pay close attention to the proper implementation and oversight of sexual harassment policies and procedures. The work that we need to do to change academic spaces is urgent and requires a shared effort from government, universities and the communities that they serve”.
Since the establishment of the Task Team, UCT has witnessed the tragic rape and murder of student Uyinene Mrwetyana. This sparked outrage and public protest and underscored how important the work of the Task Team will be.
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