Women's month: academics and students speak out

Posted on August 31, 2018

For the 2018 Women’s month, the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G) in collaboration with the UP Department of Student Affairs; the Centre for Human Rights and the #SpeakOut UP initiative, hosted a series of seminars that covered issues related to gender-based violence within the institutions of higher learning.  Below is a summary of the discussion.

Mamelodi seminar on gender- based violence

At a seminar on the Mamelodi Campus on Gender Based Violence, it emerged that the importance of highlighting the gendered nature of violence lies with the understanding of patriarchal dominance, and the use of violence to not only coercively legitimize itself but to reinforce domination. Therefore, relationships intimate or not, become a site of power contestations and reinforcement of uneven power relations between people. 

There was a call to place more training on the concept of rape, which is defined by the South African Sexual Offences and Related matters Act of 2007 as any “person who unlawfully and intentionally commits acts of sexual penetration with a complainant without consent. Sexual penetration is defined as any act which causes penetration to any extent whatsoever by genital organ of one person or beyond the genital organs, anus or mouth of another person”. 

When a person is charged of rape, argument that the victim is married to the rapist or that there is/was a relationship between the parties, is considered invalid. The latter part of the Act indicates that the site of violation is interpersonal relationships. Harm is often always caused by those known to the victim and this was highlighted at the seminar, making the students aware of intimate partner violence (IPV). “Existing research suggests that different types of violence often coexist: physical IPV is often accompanied by sexual IPV, and is usually accompanied by emotional abuse” (World Health Organisation). 

The law reform process has been an integral part of the aim to secure the protection of women from gender-based violence and the University of Pretoria seeks to intensify the support offered to students who experience violence. The director of student affairs through the Speak Out campaign seeks to offer help and the CSA&G among many other programmes offers sexual harassment workshops. Text by: Dikeledi Mokoena

Gender Justice Colloquium 

Around 13% of maternal deaths worldwide occur as a result of unsafe abortion (Campbell ), 2006, p. 1295), and yet the topic remains grossly under examined.

Prof Catherine Burns, a medical historian at UP brought to light the social construction of our understanding of abortion, and how in South Africa this has been influenced by a particular version of Victorian era Christianity which is no longer followed in its original European source. Underneath this construct is enormous complexity which influences how and when we think of life forming, and which is not a static and absolute event which can be pinned down by either religion or science. She highlighted that the work of Helen Bradford, who in 1970s apartheid era South Africa showed how women having abortions were silenced both during the procedure itself, and by society at large. While many things have changed since then, the shaming of abortion remains an obstinate barrier to safe maternal health care.

Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng of the Disa Clinic, outlined the reality of this failure for South African women seeking to terminate their pregnancy. The back-street clinics described by Helen Bradford in the 1970s are still the only option for women who live in communities without access to safe abortion. For all women, regardless of race or class, the stigma associated with abortion drives a narrative of victim hood. She must perform as though the pregnancy was a disastrous unwanted accident, when often the pregnancy was planned but circumstances changed. Unless she can perform as a victim, she is characterised as careless and promiscuous. 

It was clear that the move from reproductive rights to reproductive justice will only be achieved through broader engagement on these issues and understanding the path we have been on to get here. - Text by: Jennifer McKellar.

Reproductive Justice Panellists: Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng (Disa Clinic), Prof Cathi Albertyn (SARChI Chair in Social Justice at Wits and Prof Catherine Burns (CSA&G,UP) 

Gender Based Violence seminar

According to Palesa Mpapa from the People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), there remains a high prevalence of sexual violence in schools and it hugely affects the girl child’s right to education. In a country with high inequalities when a girl child fails to obtain educational qualifications their progress in life can be derailed because most of the better paying employment sectors require highly skilled individuals. Ms Mpapa added that girls who experience sexual violence at a younger age often face difficulties in negotiating safe sex and that puts their lives at risk of contracting other sexually transmitted diseases or having unwanted pregnancies. 

Dr Neo Pula asking critical questions from students at the Groenkloof Campus during a seminar titles: Sex, Gender and Power

Most young girls are reported to be falling prey to sexual predators through social media and peer pressure, and it is therefore important for parents and guardians to have a close relationship with their children or have someone whom their child can rely on as a confidant.  She emphasised that when children have close relations with their parents or guardian it is more likely that they will open about their life experiences and the elderly persons may empower them with adequate knowledge on how to protect themselves, as well as deal with any incidents of gender-based harm. It remains paramount for parents and guardians to be aware of the obligations they have of protecting and providing a safe environment for their children as well as to refrain from defeating the ends of justice when a child has been violated, she said.

Pierre Brouard sharing findings from a gender study at the Groenkloof Campus during a seminar titles: Sex, Gender and Power

Welekazi Stofile from Tshwaraganang Legal Advocacy Centre indicated that it is important for all members of the society to play a role in ending and preventing gender-based harms because this has health, economic and social consequences for South Africa. About one in every three women in South Africa is reported to have experienced physical abuse from an intimate partner and over 50% of women who are murdered are said to have been killed by their spouse or partner. Ms Stofile said these figures indicate that gender-based violence can no longer be treated as a private matter but a serious crime against society.

The government has made legal provisions to deal with gender-based harms such as the Domestic Violence Act, 116 of 1998, and the Harassment Act, 17 of 2011, which provide protect against various forms of gender related violence.  These include sexual abuse, physical abuse, intimidation, stalking, forced entry, and emotional, verbal and psychological abuse among others. Ms Stofile highlighted that the key factor in determining the scope of the Domestic Violence Act is that the offence occurs to people in domestic relationships, which means they are living together or sharing the same living space. This covers not only married women and children but unmarried women who are involved in a relationship or living with partners, people with same sex relationships, mothers and their sons and other people who are sharing a living space. 

It includes the day care and schools because an educator and pupil have a domestic relationship. It also extends to family members including the extended family. A few loopholes still exist in the Domestic Violence Act, especially that it does not cover people who may experience violence while living at a hotel or student accommodation. She  emphasised that while the above Acts provide a long list of harms there are some which may have been left out (for example, stalking on social media platforms). Text by: Dr Ruth Murambadoro

Pacific masculinities

In the conversation, Simphiwe Ngwane, a researcher at the Gauteng Legislature and a PhD student identified himself as a gay man and used his personal biography to articulate the complexities of identity formation and how the navigation of identity is a continuous and flexible process. Central to his reflection is that coming out of the closet is a step- by- step process that requires careful negotiations to avoid conflicts. 
Giving his own personal experience of moving to California, he pointed out movement and exploration as crucial to self-discovery and sexual and gender location.  He demystified the idea of rebellion associated with gays and lesbians and argued that one should navigate between self-expression and assertion, freedom of choice and association on the one hand and the need to remain a member of the community, family or cultural group on the other. 

Athambile Masola, UP lecturer and PhD candidate in discussion with Simphiwe Ngwane, Gauteng Legislature about masculinities. Photos: Johan Maritz

Mr Ngwane indicated that older generations, Christianity and fathers, who are symbols of authority, tradition, conservative cultures and hegemonic masculinities are likely to resist alternative sexualities and gender crossing while younger generations and feminine figures are more tolerant. He however thinks that gays who have a high social status and financial independence are better empowered to negotiate and navigate their identities and are more likely to be accepted or tolerated that those that are impoverished. – Text by: Dr Tinashe Mawere.

Contact the SpeakOut office on 012 420 4391 or go to www.up.ac.za/speakoutup

- Author Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender

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