Information and awareness crucial in fight against sexual and gender-based violence: panellists at UP webinar

Posted on August 08, 2020

One of the ways to begin the work of tackling the epidemic of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) that is gripping South Africa is ensuring that communities are educated about it and resources are made available to fight it.

This is the sentiment that came out of the SGBV webinar hosted by University of Pretoria (UP) Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe on Friday, 7 August 2020. The panel was moderated by Metro FM presenter and UP alumna Nthabeleng Matela, who was in conversation with Acting Transformation Manager in the University’s Department of Human Resources Sarah Matseke, President of the Student Representative Council David Kabwa, Dr Linda Blokland; Acting Head of Department of the Student Counselling division of the Department of Student Affairs, and Pierre Brouard; Deputy Director of the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender.

According to the crime stats for the 2019/2020 period released by the South African Police Service with Statistics SA last week, there were 53 293 sexual offences recorded in South Africa in the last year. The police also recorded 42 289 rapes in 2019/2020, which works out to an average of 116 rapes per day. With this information in mind, UP added its voice to the national conversation on SGBV, because tackling it is everyone’s responsibility.

In his opening remarks, Prof Kupe said the SGBV crisis in the country has reached pandemic level.

“Ten or so years ago, in a newspaper column I’d written, I said this is like a civil war. I have since added the word ‘pandemic’ because people seem to relate to the word [and understand its gravity]. This is because of the resilience of patriarchy, and patriarchy breeds the following; violence against women and children and lots of discrimination,” he said.

“I am calling it a civil war because people actually die on a daily basis because of sexual and gender-based violence.

“I also think that if this affected men, men would have used their power as the patriarchs in society to stop this. So what we need now is very urgent, precise, systemic and individual action to reverse [the] sexual and gender-based violence [crisis],” he said.

Prof Kupe further criticised ‘empty’ Women’s Month celebrations, stating that it is not enough to celebrate Women’s Month if the issues facing women and affecting their progress in society, such as SGBV, remain unaddressed.

South Africa celebrates national Women’s Day on August 9 and Women’s Month in August to celebrate the role played by women in the creation of a democratic South Africa, and to raise awareness about some of the issues they continue to face.

Brouard agreed with the Vice-Chancellor about the role patriarchy plays in fanning SGBV in the country. “It is so deeply woven into society along with our particularly violent past and present. I think that interweaving of patriarchy and violence makes SGBV an entrenched and embedded problem, and one we cannot fix easily,” he said.

It is not enough to have a superficial response to SGBV, he continued. Active involvement and very specific anti-violence, anti-patriarchy and anti-sexism work is necessary if gains are to be made in the fight against SGBV.

“We have a lot of work to do to unravel these norms that are so deeply embedded in our society,” he said.

Kabwa explained that from a student’s point of view, among the issues he has noted is that often people are comfortable being bystanders when it comes to dealing with SGBV.

“Many of us believe that if we know the bare minimum, then we are okay. If I know that this is wrong, then I am okay. The problem with that is that the person to your left and the person to your right may not even know what the basics are. It then becomes our responsibility to operate within the realm of our influence, and that is the only way you are able to fight a war.

“You cannot go to only [one] part of the country and fight the war when conflicts are erupting all round. If all of us play our part, it will lessen the load that some in our society carry,” he said.

In her remarks, Matseke, who is also a survivor of SGBV, said the new normal necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic can be very isolating. She added that it is vital that support, through appropriate and safe channels, still be given to survivors of SGBV, and that perpetrators are dealt with.

Matseke urged survivors to come forward and report SGBV-related crimes perpetrated against them in order to give offices such as hers the chance to give them the necessary support.

“Having data is very important, and if people do not report cases, they are hamstringing us because we can’t help them. The psychosocial support services that are available to students and staff cannot be of assistance to them if they never report,” she said.

The panel discussed topics ranging from how the SGBV crisis can be addressed with limited data available, what impact media – television, films, music, magazines, etc – has on how SGBV is tackled and how communities can be equipped to deal with SGBV.

Students and staff seeking support for SGBV-related issues can contact the Student Counselling Unit on: [email protected], call the UP Care line on: 0800 747 747 or call the 24-hour Crisis Line on:  0800 006 428.

- Author Masego Panyane

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