by Sibusisiwe Maphumulo-Intern (06 September 2018)

Gender based violence (GBV) is a profound human rights violation with major social and developmental impacts for survivors of violence, as well as their families, communities and society more broadly.

Continuing a tradition which has consistently interrogated GBV and its persistence, Agenda Feminist Media (AFM), in association with the Networks for Change and Wellbeing Project at University of KwaZulu-Natal, UKZN, held a feminist dialogue on the 6th of September at the Centre For Critical Research On Race And Identity (CCRRI), UKZN. The topic for the day was ‘New conversations? Girls and Young women speak back to the legacy of Gender Based Violence in South Africa.

The aim of the dialogue was for young women and men in higher education institutions to talk about their experiences of GBV in their lives and how it has affected them both at school and in general. It was also a way to contribute to an understanding of feminism for young women and elaborate on the importance of feminism for people growing up in a post –apartheid South Africa.

The dialogue was opened by Asha Moodley, a member of AFM’s Editorial Collective, and Lebo Moletsane from Networks for Change. In addition to giving a brief history and outline of the work of their respective organisations, both stressed the importance of girls and young women ‘speaking back’ to resist the silencing they face ‘in a context of violence’ that pervades the ‘various spaces they occupy in our country.’ Said Moletsane, “Young girls have always asked why you (older women) are speaking for us. So today, we have invited young women to talk about GBV and the solutions they see to this problem.”

The dialogue was facilitated by Janine Hicks from the School of Law, UKZN. She said some of the questions young women asked were: “where’s the women’s movement on campus?” “Where do we report GBV?” and the dialogue invited the young feminists present to “lead us in conversation about gender equality in order to move forward in our feminist practice in a complex world.”

The panellists for the day were Ms Lindelwa Mthiyane, secretary for the UKZN Chapter of  Amnesty International, Ms Amanda Ngcobo, a gender activist from UKZN Edgewood Campus; Mr Nkonzo Mkhize, a gender activist also based at Edgewood Campus and Ali Shongwe, an activist.

Each panellist gave their insights on the GBV happening on their campuses; they either spoke of their own experiences of GBV or situations they had witnessed.

Shongwe, who spoke first, highlighted the normalcy around GBV in higher education institutions and the need for stricter policies when it comes to addressing and fighting this scourge. According to her, violence on campuses happens in ‘small doses’ that often get ignored. Whether it’s physical or emotional violence, no one pays attention because a university is supposed to be a place of learning with no violence whatsoever. She also spoke about the need for proper surveillance in female residences, because most of the time the violence that occurs there goes unseen and is unreported because the cameras there are just ‘for show’; they do not work.

Shongwe also stated that culture contributes immensely towards GBV.  Because our country was once rife with violence during the apartheid era, people still believe that violence is the answer to everything. Further, many people grew up in cultures that see GBV as a family matter – so young people grow up with the notion that they should not report violence; rather, they deal with it privately. Shongwe concluded by saying that institutions should work towards creating clear and concise policies when it comes to dealing with GBV on campuses; they must also create feasible long-term and short-term goals that will ensure that the scourge of violence will at least be brought down.

Fairfax columnist Clem Ford’s definition of rape culture states that rape culture is a state of existence in which the impact and reality of sexual violence is minimised while the perpetrators of it are supported by a complex system built on flawed human beliefs, mythologies about gender, and good old fashioned misogyny. (Jack, 2018: www.smh.com). The culture aspect includes gender norms that validate men as sexual pursuers and attitudes that view women as sexual conquests by which manhood is legitimized and women are objectified (“bros before hos”).

Lindelwa Mthiyane picked up on this point when she said GBV is often a family secret; this brainwashes children growing up in violence stricken families into believing that anything can be fixed by a fist. On campuses not even male staff are safe from GBV; students will use whatever tactics they can to pass whether this is insulting a lecturer or simply threatening them.

She emphasised that as much as violence against young women is rife in institutions one must not neglect that males also suffer, whether at the hands of their male counterparts or of women. Another point that Mthiyane touched upon was gender discrimination in the workplace and schools, especially amongst women; and women ‘sleeping their way to the top’.  On the question of policies, she pointed out that some institutions do not have policies to address GBV; in others, policies are not implemented or are vague. UKZN has a gender policy, she said. However, it was not being implemented – so of what use was it? Women lived in a crippling society she said, and must “attack the problem at its roots.”

Nkonzo Mkhize spoke next. He is currently studying teaching at Edgewood Campus; according to him, GBV has been normalised on his campus. His main concern is that in a campus that is supposed to be grooming teachers of tomorrow, the levels of violence are sickening.

He also expressed concern over GBV policies which he says are purposefully hidden by management to protect the perpetrators at whatever cost. The policies are not accessible and do not necessarily speak about what the victim should do after the violence; they are just legal jargon offering no support whatsoever to the victim.

Mkhize added that he was once harassed by another student, who is now in a position of responsibility on campus; this goes to show that people in power tend to get away with the wrongs they do.

Amanda Ngcobo, also from Edgewood Campus, said when she initially entered campus in 2015 from an all-girls school, she was a ‘bystander’ in respect of the GBV she witnessed there. However, a fellow student challenged her, saying that as a future teacher she should be confronting GBV. Her concerns about the levels of violence on campus included the fact that persons were deterred from reporting GBV, assistance for GBV victims not being available from the university;  further victimisation of the victims when the  people helping them gossiped about them or by made them feel like it is their fault that they find themselves in that particular situation.

After the panellists had spoken, Janine Hicks handed over to the floor to get their views about feminism.

Shongwe said feminism was not “men bashing”. “People associate men bashing as feminism but it is not – it is wanting equal opportunities and equality for all,” she said.

She used the metaphor of a pen in a space box, to say feminism is more like being in a situation where you have 10 pens and your neighbours have none; you give them a pen so they can also be able to write. But she expressed that no matter how many pens you give away, you will still be in power because you hold the key to your neighbours’ writing. And that (power over) is what feminism was trying to do away with.

From the audience Durban University of Technology student, Sibusisiwe Maphumulo explained that men are afraid of feminism because they believe that it is here to strip away all their power; in all fairness feminists just want equality.

A common theme from the panellists was that each of them was asked if they were feminist both by their friends or family, and that in most cases the people asking them would say: “So you hate men?”

They said that feminism to them is not about hating men or making them feel inferior like people are made to believe; it’s also not about saying that #MenAreTrash, as some people believe. They further went on to say that some people are Feminazis meaning they believe that all men should be done away with just as Nazis in Germany wanted all the Jewish people dead.

One member of the audience, Jeanne Prinsloo said that patriarchy is the downfall of both men and women; we should ask why so many men are in prison. Violent masculinities impact on both men and women. We should talk more about this.  In many cultures and traditions both uphold the system of patriarchy. Most grievances women suffer, arise from their putting men on a pedestal.

A participant expressed that patriarchy has no gender; women also exercise power over other women and there is gender discrimination amongst them. We have “patriarchal princesses” – women who are gatekeepers for men against other women. A counter response to this was a concern that every time we centre men at the heart of patriarchy, the attention is  drawn away from ‘the elephant in the room’ viz men at the centre of power, to “oppressive women.”

In the end everyone agreed that people needed to be taught feminism and what it really stood for, so people can have a clear understanding of it.

Hicks also made us aware that she was on the team that has been tasked with reviewing and making changes to UKN’s GBV policy; she gave her email address and said that she was looking forward to hearing what people have to say about the policy and the suggestions they would come up with.

A student from the University of Maine in the United State said that their school had a ‘great’ GBV policy and programme which made it mandatory for first year students to do a course on GBV and their policy on it. If students do not pass the course they do not move on to the following year/semester.

Hicks and Shongwe said that it would be great for South African universities to adopt the same policy and that Life Orientation at schools should be more about life and its issues such as GBV and feminism – not just physical education only.

After the dialogue, Networks for Change launched their book titled ‘Disrupting Shameful Legacies: Girls and Young Women Speak Back through the Arts to Address Sexual Violence.’

The book is an initiative between young Canadian and South African women researchers/ writers and is edited by Claudia Mitchell and Relebohile (Lebo) Moletsane. The book exposes the “shameful colonial treatment of the colonised peoples of Canada and South Africa” and is dedicated to all “indigenous Canadian and South African girls and women who have been the victims of GBV, corrective rape, etc.”

All in all it was decided that talks like these should be brought into the public sector so people can learn about GBV and how to oppose it. The notion that GBV only occurs in homes and in relationships could be abolished if people knew what is going on in educational institutions.

Institutions need to realise the impact of GBV on students and must have programmes that address it, that will help both perpetrators and the victims.