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New education policy on gender violence released

The department of higher education, science and innovation has released a policy framework that will help institutions deal with gender-based violence. 

The document, titled “Policy Framework to Address Gender-based Violence in the Post-School Education and Training System”, was released last Friday. It says the policy guidance is needed because universities and other higher education institutions do not have the means to deal with gender-based violence and this leads to survivors not getting the support they require. 

The policy framework will serve as a guide for the post-school education and training system by providing mechanisms and processes that institutions must put in place. It will also compel institutions to not only create awareness of gender-based violence but also prevent it. 

The document notes that from 2016 institutions such as Rhodes University, the University of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela University, the University of Witwatersrand and Tshwane University of Technology have seen students protest against this form of violence. 

“Universities do not have a system in place that collects rape statistics and reports them to the department of higher education and training,” according to the document.

In 2016, students at Rhodes released names of students and staff accused of sexual assault and rape. 

Last year, students at Nelson Mandela University held a silent protest during a graduation ceremony to highlight their concerns about what they said was inaction by the university to deal with “rape culture”. The students held placards, some reading: “My rapist is graduating. Congratulations.”

The document says the implementation of the framework will be part of the performance contract and annual performance appraisal of heads of post-school education and training system institutions. 

It also sets out requirements for university and college councils to develop or review their policies to bring them in line with the policy framework. 

At college level, councils can also appoint committees to oversee and support them in the implementation of their gender-based violence policy. 

The institutions will have to submit regular reports to the department on: the number of gender-based violence cases reported and distinguish between those on-campus and off-campus; the number of cases dealt with through the justice process and those referred for disciplinary proceedings; the time taken to resolve cases and actions taken to mitigate obstacles to resolution of cases; and programmes or interventions to improve safety and reduce gender-based violence incidents. 

Last year in May, then higher education minister Naledi Pandor appointed a ministerial task team to look into to sexual harassment and violence at universities. This came after 12 female academics wrote to her asking her to address issues of sexual offences. The letter raised, among other things, the issue of junior, black women being asked for sexual favours to secure their jobs. 

The team was also tasked to advise the department on the introduction and implementation of the policy framework. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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