Every few months South Africa is rocked by a gender-based violence (GBV) story that leaves most citizens in disbelief. Recently a final year law student’s mutilated body was found in a plastic bag in East London. Her intimate partner was arrested for the alleged crime. This incident sent shockwaves across the country and intensified the need for more prevention and education around GBV.
Due to an increase in the number of GBV incidents at institutions of higher learning, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) sent all universities across the country a policy framework to guide them in creating policies that will address GBV at their institutions.
The North-West University (NWU) recently adopted and approved its GBV policy that aims to create an enabling environment for staff and students to inform, prevent, support and monitor GBV on and off its campuses.
This policy will protect all gender identities and sexual orientations, including LGBTQIA+ individuals and marginalised minorities, from all forms of GBV, sexual discrimination, violence and harassment.
From victim to victor
The NWU is committed to curbing the scourge of GBV in the institution. Survivors are encouraged to speak up and lay complaints without fear, prejudice or victimisation.
“The university will use a comprehensive and multifaceted approach that is fair, equitable, consistent, objective, confidential and transparent to address complaints of GBV. Once a complaint has been laid with the relevant structures of the University, appropriate and swift action in accordance with this policy will be taken,” says Michelle Bownes, a senior employee-relations specialist at the NWU.
All instances of GBV will be addressed in a manner that takes into account matters relating to gender sensitivity, cultural beliefs or traditions, language capacities, sexual orientation and disability. All responses to GBV will maintain the confidentiality and privacy of those involved, whose trust, safety, physical and psychological needs must be prioritised.
The policy will follow the relevant disciplinary policies, practices and rules applicable to employees and students of the University. GBV survivors will also receive psycho-social support from the NWU Employee Wellness or Student Counselling and Development Units.
The NWU brand on or off-campus
The GBV issue in South Africa has reached boiling point, and staff and students need to respect and protect each other and members of the public on and off our campuses.
“As an institution, we understand that the minute our staff and students step off the premises they become the brand ambassadors of the University. The NWU does not tolerate any acts of GBV and encourages all its stakeholders to follow and adhere to the policy even when they are off-campus,” says Michelle.
This policy will protect staff and students who lay complaints against each other, and external stakeholders who do not study or work at the University who lay complaints against an NWU staff member or student.
“For us to achieve an institutional culture against GBV all employees and students need to work together. We urge all students and staff to pledge their support as we implement and apply this policy,” says Michelle.
Dr Sibusiso Chalufu, executive director of Student Life, says his department will launch a number of awareness projects in collaboration with key stakeholders and student leaders across the leadership spectrum. They also plan to work and collaborate with other institutions both in higher and basic education.
The fight against GBV is an ongoing process, and against the background of the dream to be an internationally recognised university in Africa, distinguished for engaged scholarship, social responsiveness and an ethic of care, the University will also continue to educate its staff, students and members of the public on GBV.