War waged against women at UFH
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For the 7 years I have been part of University of Fort Hare, I have noted how dismissed women are at the institution. Whether that highlights harassment and Gender Based Violence at the institution or the inequality that women staff members become normalized to at the institution. Only in 2018, do we see transformation whereby capable, astound women are taking up spaces that are rightfully theirs. As activists at the university, we have noted even how majority of women are only general staff members, and the limited few that are given ‘Dean’ positions for status quo reasons end up not being decisions makers.

 

For years the institution has been in denial with issues of sexual harassment against women, probably because UFH itself is a very patriarchal institution, and that even the same men in power are the same perpetrators abusing their power. In 2016, ‘Indlovukazi Women Empowerment’ marched and issued a memorandum to the then Dean, Mr. Brian Gallant demanding a sexual harassment policy to be institutionalized amongst other issues, such as unsafe residences. Since 2016, Management has only been able to convene a task team, that managed to draft a policy and that was the ‘end’ of any discussions. With rape and abuse cases still being pertinent, management saw no urgency to refine and finalize the policy until this month, due to public scrutiny and publicity. Management’s stance of having no sense of urgency for this policy to be in place, shows the disregard of women’s rights at the University of Fort Hare.

Also, there are cases that have been reported to ‘Indlovukazi’ of Management officials in power that are accused of hiding cases of Gender-based Violence on campuses. Some departments/units are regarded as the priority call for reporting rape and abuse; yet the same ‘officials’  silence and inform woman to go back to their partners or forgive the perpetrators. This is the exact reason as to why most cases at the University of Fort Hare go unreported because there are no tangible reporting systems in place.

In addition, the Student Counselling Unit in both campuses is understaffed, with 1 psychologist stationed at each campus. This is worrying and once again, there is no sense of urgency from either Dean’s office, or HR to appoint a few psychologist’. This places student’s health and wellness at stake, particularly victims that need counselling.

For years, and each time a case is publicized management issues statements condemning Gender-Based violence, with no actual solutions in place but to shine on a ‘policy’ that they themselves refuse to put forward and implement. The disregard and patronization is alarming and upsetting to say the most. UFH, like Rhodes University protects perpetrators, rather than victims.

It’s time we name and shame perpetrators of violence against women at the institution and ensure that Fort Hare is a haven for female students. The new Dean of Students has promised the ‘Stand as one against GBV’, formulate a sexual harassment policy and organize workshop by the end of this semester, and I am aware that meetings involving the policy have proceeded and we hope that the university will not distance itself again and will provide sensitization workshops for all stakeholders relevant for the smooth implementation of the policy; otherwise as activist that are part of the university and are affected we will keep management accountable and expose even staff members that abuse their power.

By: Aphiwe Ziyanda Ntlemeza

Aphiwe is UNFPA Youth Advisory panel member, Human Rights and Gender Activist, a Black Feminist and PhD candidate. Writes on her personal capacity.