Agenda Feminist Media’s second feminist dialogue, exploring the theme “How does/would a girl-led response(s) to sexual violence look like?” was held at the New Conference Centre of the Edgewood Campus of the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) on 19th March 2015.
The dialogue launched a six-year (2014-2020) collaborative project titled: “Networks for Change and Well-Being: Girl-led from the ground-up” focusing on policy to address sexual violence in Canada and South Africa. This initiative is funded by the International Partnerships for Sustainable Societies (IPASS) programme (International Development Research Centre) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
Participants included girls and young women, feminists, activists, academics, policy makers and others who came together to reflect on what the responses envisioned might look like. AFM chairperson of its Board of Directors, Janine Hicks, expressed confidence that the research would allow the experiences of rural girls to be heard and ultimately result in change.
Professor Gregory Kamkwendo (Dean and Head of the School of Education, UKZN) welcomed the participants attending the dialogue and shared his ideas on gender- based violence (GBV).
“We have all heard of STDs, but in universities there is a different kind: sexually transmitted degrees – when students give sexual favours to lecturers for good grades.”
Prof Kamkwendo highlighted the importance of conversations on gender based violence in South African universities. He also stressed the importance of male presence in such dialogues, after he had observed that very few men were in the room.
Rekha Mahadev, the first speaker, is a secondary school teacher in Durban. She has a masters in education from UKZN and graduated with a doctorate in Philosophy of Education in 2014 at the NMMU.
Rekha spoke about her research in an Indian high school, which focussed on using participatory video research to address GBV. Her study centred on how Indian youth understands, experience and relate to GBV.
She said that as an intervention addressing GBV, the use of participatory video explores Indian youth’s understandings of sexual violence in their community in an age of HIV and AIDS.Through the involvement of youth in this research study, Rekha was able to gauge that participatory video provides a “rationale for bringing together the participants to express themselves freely and display their awareness of sexual violence.” Her research highlights that culture should not be considered inert or fixed but rather as ever changing.
She found that if negative behaviours are condoned and encouraged by peers, this reinforcement strengthens the attachment between the friends, and increases the likelihood of their repeating violent behaviours. Youth, she said, are at the most vulnerable stage of their lives, where their sense of self seems to constantly change, altering their engagement with the world. Participatory video research is a powerful tool for addressing GBV in communities, she concluded.
Ndumiso Ngidi, the second presenter, is a student development practitioner with the Durban University of Technology’s (DUT) Department of Governance and Development, and holds a Masters Degree in Development Studies. His subject was “Using Transformative Pedagogies for the Prevention of Gender-based Violence as a school-based intervention.” As a community-based activist, he mentors young people from townships.
His Inyathelo Lethu (Our Initiative) Project looked at how transformative pedagogies can be used to address GVB among youth. It brought together two groups of peer educators, one being a newly established group at Senzokwethu Secondary School while the other was from the DUT.
He said the initiative enhanced the learners’ confidence in identifying gender violence in their own lives and in the lives of others.
He read out some of the comments of the 200 learners reached in the project. These included:
“I realized how much one can gain from offering one’s self into instilling change and empowering one another. Through this programme I have learned to know myself.” Another stated, “This programme taught me how to listen to other people and how to deal with other people’s problems. Being in contact with the DUT has made me empathetic towards other people.” The results were used to develop and implement a GBV prevention curriculum at the school.
The third presentation was from Naydene de Lange and NMMU Students Zethu Jiyana and Melissa Lufele. The former is a Professor at the Faculty of Education at the NMMU, with expertise in Educational Psychology, Inclusive Education, HIV and AIDS Education and Visual Participatory Methodologies. The latter are BEd students from the NMMU’s Faculty of Education.
Zethu and Melissa spoke about women students’ experiences of violence and feeling unsafe on campus, issues which their project aimed to highlight. The issues were raised in cellphilms (videos made using cell phones) and used to generate a set of policy posters and action briefs that they shared with university policy makers towards addressing the issues and to stimulate dialogue in the university community around sexual violence and safety.
Their project is called Digital Media for Change and Well-being. It is framed by the critical need for innovative approaches to policy making and programming in relation to the safety and security of girls and young women and particularly in contexts of high sexual violence and HIV and AIDS. In particular, their project explored girl-led policy development relating to sexual violence at their university.
The project focuses on how participatory initiatives (including digital media practices) with young women, a group typically excluded from policy dialogue, inform practices, policies, programmes and services related to their own safety, security and well-being.
After the South African presentation on the dialogue’s theme, Claudia Mitchell of McGill University, talked about working with indigenous girls in Canada.Claudia Mitchell is amongst other things, a James McGill Professor in the Department of Integrated Studies in the Faculty of Education, McGill University, Canada and an Honorary Professor in the School of Education, UKZN, where she established the Centre for Visual Methodologies for Social Change. She represents the Canadian aspect of the collaborative project described earlier.
“This project is not about one country feeding the other with money and have them do all the work, and in the end see what happened.This is a transnational dialogue, where the girls are in the forefront and the researchers take a rather back seat,” Claudia stressed.”
In her presentation she highlighted how the Canadian government doesn’t view gender-based violence as a human rights issue but as a “mere” crime. She used a graph illustrating the higher rates of gender-based violence deaths in Canada compared to those arising from terrorist attacks. This made her very ashamed of her country, she said, making it vital to examine GBV in Canada too.
In the discussions that followed, participants applauded the ‘great initiative’ saying that it was important to give girls a space and platform to lead projects addressing sexual violence. They also wanted to know what happened after the project when learners returned home and faced challenges: after being involved in the peer education programme were they able to cope when the programme left the school? (Here Ndumiso responded, highlighting that partnerships with organisations like Childline assist once students have left the school).
Another comment was that instead of condemning young girls we should be equipping them to deal with their sexual needs, let them know that it is okay to have sexual desire and how to then deal with this. There was also criticism of President Zuma’s comment about putting away pregnant teenage school girls on Robben Island. A final comment was that it was not wrong to be a sexual being. “We need to explore our sexuality”, it was said. Finally, someone mused what would happen (in a male-privileged world) if a “girl touched a boy’s bum.”