Pretoria – A range of stakeholders are championing new plans to address rape and gender-based violence at universities and colleges.
“This forms part of strengthening and deepening HIV/AIDS prevention and support and other initiatives to deal with risks to student health and ability to complete studies – including alcohol and drugs abuse which exacerbate violence and sexually transmitted infections including HIV,” said the Department of Higher Education.
The universities and colleges are looking at ways to collaborate in order to share existing methods that work in responding to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and to adopt and roll-out new policies and measures in order to improve safety of their students and staff.
Many – but not all – of the 76 higher education institutions, which work with two million students and staff across some 420 campuses, have policies and programmes to reduce and deal with SGBV.
Reports of incidents and institutional, legal and health-related responses indicate inconsistent application of policies and availability of services.
“Inadequate protection and assistance for rape survivors and ineffective prosecution of perpetrators are frequently a concern, and contribute to compounding the harm caused by sexual assaults in the first place,” the department said.
Briefing the media on Thursday, Higher Education Deputy Minister Mduduzi Manana said: “As a sector, we want to acknowledge that our lecture rooms, offices, residences and other campus areas and their immediate vicinity are vulnerable to rape and sexual assault.
“As a sector, we want to state that each incident is unacceptable, unlawful and harmful. As a sector, we are now initiating consultations and collaborations that will lift this burden from the individual institutions and make it a sectoral and national priority, enabling us to work towards a significant drop in levels of SGBV.
“As a sector, we recognise that this is an urgent and necessary mission in order to protect students and staff and fulfil our mandate to educate South African youth and contribute to social and economic transformation and progress”.
The initiative involves the Department of Higher Education and Training, the Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS Programme (HEAIDS) and role players from higher education institutions, research and capacity building organisations, government departments, social, police and justice services and the NGOs working in this field.
These partners will form a technical task team that will conduct a needs analysis and prepare a comprehensive SGBV strategy for the sector.