Tackling Gender Based Violence and strengthening policies

05 April 2022 | VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng

Dear colleagues and students

I am writing to give you an opportunity to speak to the University of Cape Town (UCT) about our policies on HIV/Aids and Inclusivity for Sexual Orientation, and to enlist your support in our ongoing work against sexual and gender-based violence.

Sexual and gender based violence remains a profound challenge

The annual UCT Gender Based Violence Report was tabled at Council in December 2021. It underscores the tragic fact that sexual and gender based violence remains a profound challenge on our campus, as it is in our society.

While we remain deeply concerned about the incidents of sexual and gender based violence the report also reflects on the significant improvements we have made in recent years in how UCT responds to cases of sexual and gender based violence. It reinforces the responsibility we all share to understand the issue of sexual and gender based violence so that we can help to release its grip on our community and ultimately our broader society. This is our duty to each other, no matter what position we hold at UCT.

Please take time to read the report. It provides an in-depth view of how our community members experience sexual and gender based violence and how they receive support from UCT through our external partnerships, including with the South African Police Service (SAPS).

For years now, UCT has committed to a survivor-centred approach that shields survivors of sexual and gender based violence from any form of secondary victimisation, from the moment of reporting through to the closure of the case.

While the report records a disturbing increase in cases of sexual and gender based violence during 2021, it also notes an encouraging increase in the uptake of the services available at UCT. More than 200 students accessed support and services during 2021 for a range of incidents and concerns.

This report describes the forms that sexual and gender based violence take within the UCT community and where they occur. Using empirical data, we can target proactive prevention and response mechanisms to address the challenges not only in how we behave towards one another, but also in how the institution responds to this crime on our campus. UCT is committed to making these systemic changes where possible.

Most universities only record, report and respond to incidents of sexual and gender based violence that occur on university grounds. But since 2000, UCT has taken the initiative to report and respond to every reported incident that affects a UCT staff member or student, regardless of where it occurs. As a result, the sexual and gender based violence incident statistics for UCT will continue to be higher than they are for most universities in South Africa.

It is also important to understand the terminology used in this report. In this document, when a survivor or first responder logs an incident with the Office for Inclusivity and Change (OIC), UCT activates support services regardless of whether or not the survivor follows a formal reporting process. A reported incident does not need to be verified in order for a survivor to receive assistance. The report distinguishes a reported incident from the case outcome that includes investigation and assessment.

The following policies and interventions assist us to support survivors:

Regardless of your sexual orientation, gender, religion or race, you have a voice at UCT

The exclusion and/or marginalisation of gender diverse staff and students amounts to discrimination. We address this crime through disciplinary processes within UCT.

Our inclusive culture ensures that regardless of your sexual orientation, gender, religion or race, you have a voice and agency at UCT and we welcome you. Each one of us needs to help sustain this culture of respect, care and active inclusion.

UCT has made firm commitments to gender inclusion, for instance by installing 53 gender-neutral bathrooms on campus for staff and students. Every new UCT building on campus has a standard number of four bathrooms to account for gender diversity and disability. Students in residence who are trans* or gender neutral can meet with Student Housing and Residence Life to assist them in their placement in the residence system. Similarly, students have been able to change their titles and pronouns on UCT documents since 2016.

Two important institutional policies about inclusivity at UCT – HIV/AIDS and Inclusivity for Sexual Orientation – are due for a comprehensive review. The process will take an in-depth look at our administrative policies, documentation, procedures, FAQs, and appendices to:

  1. determine whether the policy is still needed or if it should be combined with another administrative policy;
  2. determine whether the purpose and goal of the policy are being met;
  3. determine how we can improve the effectiveness or clarity of the policy and procedures; and
  4. ensure that the policy receives appropriate education support, monitoring and ongoing review.

The HIV/AIDS policy was last approved in 2006 and the procedural guidelines have been updated annually. The policy requires updating in relation to the POPIA Act, staff support services and student education and prevention interventions.

The UCT Inclusivity Policy for Sexual Orientation was approved in 2017 and has now reached the deadline for review.

Please take a moment to read each policy and share your recommendations on them. Your participation is welcomed, voluntary and anonymous.

Thank you in advance for your recommendations on these two policies and for demonstrating your commitment to creating a culture of respect, care and active inclusion.

Yours sincerely

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
University of Cape Town.

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