Prof’s bid to end gender violence at universities
UFH’s Gqola among nine academics to research scourge at institutions of learning for minister of education
University of Fort Hare (UFH) Professor Pumla Gqola is among a host of academics in the country chosen to tackle and find solutions to the scourge of sexual harassment and genderbased violence at universities.
Gqola, a feminist author who has written several influential books including, Rape: A
South African Nightmare, which won the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction, told the Daily Dispatch on Friday that she was very excited to be part of a process that would hopefully come up with tangible solutions on how to end gender-based violence (GBV) at tertiary institutions.
“I am really excited that this issue is finally getting the level of attention that it is. I am excited of the prospect of hopefully turning the corner on a issue that has bothered me for as long as I have been part of academia,” said Gqola.
The 46-year-old, who has 25 years experience in academics, currently holds the position of dean of research at UFH.
She was named as one of the nine-member ministerial task team, who would be required to spend the next 12 months compiling questions and getting the appropriate answers relating to the sexual harassment and gender-based violence scourge on university campuses.
After a 12-month period, the team will submit a report on their outcomes to higher education, science and technology minister Blade Nzimande. The team was appointed by former higher education minister, Dr Naledi Pandor on Monday, a few days before the end of her term in the department.
The other members include:
● Lisa Vetten, a researcher specialising in gender-based violence from Wits University;
● Senior sociology and anthropology lecturer at Nelson Mandela University, Dr Babalwa Magoqwana;
● Dr Robert Morrell, an associate member to the school of education at the University of Cape Town;
● Dean of student affairs at Wits, Jerome September;
● Professor Malehoko Tshoaedi, who is an associate professor in the sociology department at UJ;
● Rhodes University academic Corinne Knowles;
● Jackie Dugard, an associate professor at the school of law at Wits; and
● A student representative nominated by the South African Union of Students (SAUS).
Gqola said part of the task for each member would be to bring and use their experiences from their different activist spaces against gender-violence to shift the condition that enables sexual violence – and ultimately end it. Like most universities in the country, UFH has not been exempt from this scourge.
In March, the university dealt with three separate cases of GBV that resulted in the suspension of two staff members and a student and the firing of a professor.
Gqola said, like the rest of society, universities were very patriarchal where the majority of powerful people at universities across the world were predominantly men.
“In our universities, there’s a certain patriarchal thing that enables a space that is deeply hierarchical and in any space like that we are bound to find some measure of toxic masculinity and sexual harassment is one expression,” she said.
Gqola said part of the problem was that most universities had inadequate “tools” to deal with this matter and to create safe campuses.
“We have also learnt from academic spaces that do have sexual harassment policies and machinery to deal with sexual violence that a policy is only as good as the institutions willingness to support it.
“Also people who are found guilty often jump ship and move from one university to another and we have responsibility to deal with that and ensure it does not happen,” said Gqola.
Former higher education spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said the appointment of the team was part of the department’s response to an open letter written by a group of academics to Pandor in March concerning gender violence on campus.
In addition to appointing the team, the department recently released a policy framework to address gender-based violence in higher learning institutions.
Ngqengelele said the team would be required to give advice to the minister such as how to effectively introduce and implement the policy.
Other advice would concern a possible inquiry into sexual harassment and GBV in the university sector and measures to ensure that sexual offenders do not escape justice and repeat offences at other institutions.
People who are found guilty often jump ship and move from one university to another and we have responsibility to deal with it