Wits University became one of the IMPACT 10x10x10 champions by joining the UN Women’s HeForShe solidarity movement. This made Wits one of 10 universities around the world that has committed to tangible steps to improve gender equality across the university.
Director of the Wits Gender Equity Office, Jackie Dugard, told Wits Vuvuzela that it is a great honour and a privilege for Wits to be part of the campaign.
“The movement is a platform for learning, exchange and leadership. So, this means that there will be an opportunity for raising the profile of issues across key institutions and society, and learning from each other and offering leadership,” she said.
Wits has pledged to have women occupy 32% of the Heads of Schools roles by 2019 and to increase women in professorship roles to 30%. Campaigners plan to publish annual reports on campus violence and work on non-traditional techniques to spread the message of gender equality, including “ambush lectures”, to reach all students.
Wits plans to develop and implement a curriculum for gender sensitisation aimed at students, faculty and staff, along with programmes that will address gender-based violence.
The university’s commitment to a gender-equal environment includes developing a comprehensive system to report, predict, prevent, and address gender-based harm on campus. Institutions also commit to using non-traditional supporters to mainstream gender equality and to increase the representation of women staff in the context of South Africa’s complex “dual diversity” mandate.
When asked about the nature of gender discrimination at Wits, Dugard said: “We see quite a lot of that among students, we see that there is sexual violence, sexual assault, rape and we also see people calling each other things which are unacceptable.
“At staffing levels, we see issues around failure of particular staff members to acknowledge the position of women as being equal, so we still see staff members who regard women as inferior, so, yes, I think Wits is certainly a microcosm which is a larger sexist society,” she said.
Enhle Khumalo, who holds the SRC Research and Policy portfolio, told Wits Vuvuzela: “Wits is an institutionalised machinery and so it’s a big deal that it’s joined such a movement because this enables the conversations to start happening, because a lot of the time I feel like, especially when it comes to issues of patriarchy, it’s sort of an invisible violence because it’s normalised.”
Khumalo said: “There are behaviours at Wits that need to be unlearned, and if that’s to say there is gender discrimination, yes.
“And even look at some of the structures we have, you see that it’s the women that are deputised, or it’s the women made to be a secretary. Those are particulars of patriarchy.
“We as students need to cultivate a culture of discourse in regards to what it means to be women, and don’t run away from the word ‘feminism’, you don’t have to subscribe to the vanguard for transformation,” she said.
As part of gender activism on campus, Wits students recently showed their support for the RedMyLips campaign by encouraging both men and women to stand in solidarity against sexual violence and to support rape victims.
Wits acted against four lecturers in 2013 for sexual harassment, dismissing three. Earlier this year Wits Vuvuzela reported some students from Wits Men’s Res were singing “I love pussy” at rugby matches.