The letter was sent to the Minister of Higher Education.

A letter by a group of black women and gender non-conforming academics has placed the problem of sexual offences at institutions of higher learning under the spotlight. The letter, penned by individuals from institutions across the country, was sent to the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Naledi Pandor on March 23.

While the letter reaffirms the issue of sexual harassment and violence against women, it also draws attention to the the ‘sex for jobs’ practice at these institutions which included Wits University and almost every other institution in the country.

“Women that are employed in short term contractual positionsare especially vulnerable to harassment and to sexual abuse. Many of them depend on their abusers to have their contracts renewed,” read the letter.

Some of its recommendations include setting up a special investigation into the extent of sexual offences between staff and students, keeping a register of offenders, and making it accessible for all universities.

Dr Darlene Miller, a co-signatory from the Wits School of Governance, says that she was approached by her research colleagues from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan and Rhodes University to “support the letter given the renewed urgency of the problem of women’s vulnerability in a patriarchal academy in recent weeks”.

The letter also calls for the standard provision of resources to offices dealing with sexual offences at universities.

Crystal Dicks, a co-signatory and director of the Wits Gender Equity Office, said, “Wits has excellent policies in place and a dedicated office to deal with sexual harassment,” however, the office is “hugely under-resourced and patriarchy always finds a way of pushing back”.

Members of the public are encouraged to add their name to the letter by sending an email to silungisaiacademy@gmail.com. Miller says that the term silungisa iacademy “is an inclusive, genderless framing of human beings that are invested in the work of addressing what needs to be fixed in higher learning institutions in SA”.

Despite repeated attempts to get comment from the minister of higher education, none was forthcoming.

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