Dear students and colleagues
During these 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, I think in particular of the rape and murder of our first-year student Uyinene Mrwetyana just a few months ago, and how that tragedy united the University of Cape Town (UCT) in outrage. I also cannot forget the countless other victims of gender-based violence, including Capricorn TVET College student Precious Ramabulana. As our chancellor, Graça Machel, reminded us, outrage is not enough: we need to take constructive action, not just for these 16 days, but every day. I want to challenge especially the men in our community to commit to changes in behaviour and attitudes that contribute to gender-based violence (GBV).
The Safety and Violence Initiative (SaVI) at UCT published a report in 2017 in conjunction with the Department of Social Development on violence against women and children in South Africa – the culmination of the collaborative efforts of UCT researchers from different disciplines. It is an important example of interdisciplinary, socially responsible research. A summary of that report is available online. One of the report’s recommendations is to encourage men and older boys to become actively involved in advocating for gender equality, preventing GBV and responding to HIV and AIDS through projects such as the One Man Can initiative by Sonke Gender Justice, which works throughout Africa. SaVI, in partnership with the Civilian Secretariat for Police Services, also hosts Safer Spaces: an online knowledge sharing and networking portal focusing on community safety and the prevention of crime and violence.
I encourage each of you to initiate change against GBV in a way that is positive and builds community. It may mean seeking counselling for students or staff members to deal with the effects of violence in your life. It may mean working with the Office for Inclusivity & Change (OIC) or an NGO to help organise a campaign, to confront male GBV patterns of behaviour, or to read about what works in preventing violence in South Africa. It may mean reporting an incident, even if it was long ago.
If you are not sure what you can do, I urge you to take a few minutes to participate in a short, informative online survey on GBV prevention and bystander intervention provided by the OIC, as it can help you understand what GBV is and what you, as a bystander, can do to prevent it.
GBV is the focus of some very good research at UCT. I want to acknowledge in particular the work by the Children’s Institute on preventing violence against girls and boys, and a project by the Gender Health and Justice Research Unit to improve the functioning of pilot sexual offences courts in three South African provinces.
Tragically, GBV is a global problem that happens in many different homes and communities. Statistics SA reports that almost half of GBV crimes are committed by someone known to the survivor. There are many survivors of GBV in the UCT community, including men as well as women. Whether you are dealing with the after-effects of an attack that occurred recently or long ago, my hope is that you will find solidarity with people who can walk with you on your journey.
GBV is a crisis that calls on each of us to respond, to bring change into our communities, our society and the way we relate to each other in personal relationships. This includes men, women and people in the LGBTQI community. I believe in the power of UCT students and staff members to bring this kind of change. And I look forward to seeing the positive effects of your actions.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
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