Department of Higher Education and Training
4 June 2019
A ministerial task team on sexual harassment and gender-based violence in South African universities has been set up.
In a statement, the higher education and training department confirmed that the task team is appointed for 12 months with effect from June 2019.
According to the department, the setting up of the task team formed part of its response to an open letter written by a group of academics in March 2019 containing proposals to address the issues.
Following a meeting with the academics, it was agreed that “addressing sexual harassment and gender-based harm decisively will allow for a focus on ‘fundamental academic questions’ and restore ‘academic cultures that respect freedom and citizenship of all’”.
A draft Policy Framework to address Gender-based Violence in the Post-School Education and Training sector was recently published for public comment.
It was drafted in terms of the Continuing Education and Training Act and the Higher Education Act.
According to the foreword, the Draft Policy Framework seeks to direct the post-school education and training (PSET) system in contributing towards identifying effective responses and solutions to what is clearly a deeply complex social challenge for South Africa.
“It is our vision that this 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.”
Some of the Draft Policy Framework’s aims include conceptualising GBV and defining its manifestation in terms of existing laws and policies, outlining the international and national regulatory framework governing responses to GBV, providing guidance around the structures, mechanisms and processes that PSET institutions must put in place to address GBV and setting out a framework for oversight of the department’s and PSET institutions’ development and implementation of policy.
Goals include creating an enabling environment to inform, prevent, support and monitor GBV in PSET institutions, putting comprehensive awareness and prevention programmes in place and putting supportive, efficient and reparative assistance procedures to complainants/victims in place.
The Draft Policy Framework focuses on, inter alia, conceptualizing GBV, key principles for GBV policy development and implementation, policy mandates, goals of the policy framework, theory of change and policy implementation.
In the latest statement, the department pointed out that the proposed policy framework will provide an important paradigm for addressing many of the concerns that the academics raised.
Issues that the task team will advise the higher education and training minister on include the effective introduction and implementation of the policy framework to address gender-based violence, with a specific focus on universities; a possible enquiry into sexual harassment, gender-based violence and gender-based harm in the university sector; appropriate levels of support for universities and mechanisms and processes to report on sexual offences in the sector.
The task team will also be expected to identify good practices that could be replicated and policy weaknesses that may be contributing towards failures by universities to address the challenges.