VC’s message on gender-based harm on campus

MESSAGE FROM THE VICE-CHANCELLOR AND PRINCIPAL OF WITS UNIVERSITY

Dear Colleagues / Students

The events at Rhodes University over the past month or so have highlighted the critical issue of rape on campus. This is a reality that many of us would prefer not to have to face, but Rhodes has reminded us that we have to decisively and determinedly face the issue of Gender-Based Harm (GBH), including rape, on campus.

In 2012, just as I was appointed as the Vice-Chancellor of Wits, the issue of GBH at Wits became public when an aggrieved student, who felt let down by the Wits systems, went to the media to report her sexual harassment by a lecturer. The internal crisis this public revelation provoked gave rise to an Independent Inquiry into Allegations of Sexual Harassment at Wits and led to a complete rethink of the systems and procedures for dealing with GBH on campus. Having found the existing machinery and processes deficient and fragmented, a new, empowered and consolidated office was created in February 2014 to deal comprehensively with GBH on campus.

Today the Gender Equity Office (GEO) provides a safe and confidential space for complainants and victims of GBH, including sexual harassment and rape, to receive support and discuss redress for their complaints, whether through mediation, informal discussion or the new gender-sensitive disciplinary procedure for gender-related misconduct. These dedicated services are available to all staff and students.

Although we are proud of what we have done to tackle GBH on campus, we are very aware that the fight is far from over. While it is critical to provide support and systems of redress including disciplinary procedures for complainants, such reactive measures rely on people coming forward to talk to us, and do not easily address the heart of the problem, which is patriarchy and male entitlement.

We understand that South Africa’s legacy of gender discrimination and violence is a reality that we must fight on a daily basis. This is not a fight for women only. Rather, it is a fight for every person who abhors the abuse of power and the trauma of violence. It is a fight to ensure that the role of men in ending gender-based harm is as active participants and not passive observers; it is to ensure that patriarchy and inequality are uprooted; and to ensure that those who benefit from inequitable hierarchies are an equal part of their destruction. It is a fight that universities generally, and Wits University specifically, must be part of.

As such, we are constantly working to optimise our advocacy and gender sensitisation interventions but welcome input and suggestions, which can be emailed to info.geo@wits.ac.za. We also warmly encourage anyone who has suffered GBH to come and talk to the GEO, which is on the 20th Floor, University Corner, Braamfontein Campus East. Telephone: (011) 717-9790.
We also warn perpetrators that Wits is not in denial about the reality of GBH on campus, and that we will do everything in our power to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.

Thank you

PROFESSOR ADAM HABIB

Vice-Chancellor and Principal

University of the Witwatersrand

9 May 2016