Policy to address gender-based violence ready for comment

Rhodes University students protesting against the lack of consequences for rape accused on campuses may get relief as their concerns may now be ready to be fully addressed.
Rhodes University students protesting against the lack of consequences for rape accused on campuses may get relief as their concerns may now be ready to be fully addressed.
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

The draft policy framework to address gender-based violence in the post-school education and training system which has been collecting dust in the department of higher education and training has finally been signed by the minister of higher education and training Naledi Pandor for public comments.

The department said that the final version of the framework is to be submitted to the government printers for publishing in the Gazette by this week.

The framework (which has been edited) was drafted by gender specialist, Lisa Vetten, following consultations in 2017/2018, and as endeavours to "conceptualise gender-based violence and define its manifestation in terms of existing laws and policies".

The framework further aims to provide guidance to higher learning institutions "around the structures, mechanisms and processes" that institutions "must put in place to address GBV". It will also set out oversight of the department and institutions' "development and implementation of policy," among other key objectives.

This is a considerable milestone in the fight against sexual violation in academia. It follows pressure from academics who voiced their concern in a widely circulated open letter addressed to the minister in March.

The letter's focus was on gender-based violence and sexual violence on campuses. The group called for a special investigation into the extent and scope of sexual offences in the higher education sector. I thought that their demand for a public register of offenders was earnest.

The demand for the disclosure of quarterly stats is significant and practical, because when we know the prevalence, we will be better equipped to deal with the calamity. The true nature of sexual violation in academia will not be established until official data is recorded.

Research shows that determining the prevalence is key to effective management of sexual violation. It was for this reason that the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act was enacted in the US to ensure that all institutions which fall under Title IV publicly disclose their crime statistics and crime prevention and security policies and procedures on campus.

The way in which institutions respond to complaints also remains a concern. Whereas the issue of sexual violation in academia has at last come to the forefront of culture and politics, it has also highlighted the 'shocking way' in which institutions deal with sexual violations. The policy framework is long overdue.

The higher-education remains responsible to ensure that institutions are free from sexual violence, both public and private, and not just universities, but TVET and colleges too.

Pandor says that the policy framework "will become part of the solution, not only to address gender-based violence in our institutions, but also to engage society and communities in curbing gender-based violence".

Sexual violation in academia is beset with challenges. An institution might claim that rape does not fall within its jurisdiction, despite the law clearly stating that rape is a form of sexual harassment - read labour laws Code of Good Practice on the Handling of Sexual Harassment, if you don't believe me.

At best, this framework may guide TVET's and colleges to implement and adopt policy. Research reveals there is dilemma in policy implementation that is self-regulatory in that it can ensure the perpetuation of a vicious cycle between the aim of abolishing sexual violence and the mechanisms to prevent it.

This then suggests that actual law reform is necessary.

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