The Amnesty International chapter at Wits University is currently running two online campaigns aimed at helping Witsies deal with issues of mental health and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) during the covid-19 lockdown period and beyond.

The campaigns are currently being broadcast on social media platforms including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp under the hashtags #copinginquaratine and #STOPSGBV. The campaign’s content includes infographics, images, and videos which serve to disseminate important information and incite valuable dialogue within the Wits community:

The mental health campaign launched on Friday, April 17 and the SGBV campaign began on Monday, April 27.

Co-chairperson of Amnesty International Wits, Alwande Khumalo (22) who is currently studying towards her honours degree in political studies with research on gender inclusivity and human trafficking, is managing the SGBV campaign.

“I believe in taking injustices personally and forcing them to affect you (whether personally or empathically) which will lead to you doing some sort of action that will manifest in the creation of a world that is free of all human rights violations and atrocities,” Khumalo told Wits Vuvuzela.

The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness around issues of sex and gender-based violence in South Africa and abroad, as well as to stand with victims by reminding them that they are not forgotten in this lockdown and that there are practical ways to seek help. According to a statement from Amnesty International, “not only is the immediate danger of SGBV heightened during this lockdown period but is a pandemic of its own.”

Claire Tsumane (21), a third-year bachelor of arts in psychology and international relations student at Wits, runs the mental health campaign as the second co-chairperson of AIW.

Tsumane said that they initially started the campaign to address mental health as a human rights issue.  “We wanted to create unity within our Wits community by highlighting the shared need for good mental health.”

The mental health campaign aims to promote the importance of maintaining positive mental health during the nation-wide lockdown. “The Wits community is being affected by the covid-19 pandemic and this results in students struggling to fulfil academic requirements, keep mentally healthy and live normal lives,” said AIW in their mission statement regarding the campaign.

Karabo Mogashoa, a 19-year-old second-year student at Wits studying a bachelor of arts in international relations and politics, said that she discovered the campaign through friends. She follows AIW content mostly on Instagram. 

“I make time to engage with the advice given on how to deal with mental health and covid-19. I also got involved with the mental health awareness campaign by sharing my thoughts on the ups and downs of online learning,” Mogashoa told Wits Vuvuzela.

Khumalo said that they use various resources to create their campaign’s content by “reaching out to credible contacts that deal with instances of SGBV, such as using the resources available at the Wits Gender Equity Office.” She also stated that “all information that we post and repost is fact-checked by us.”

Tsumane added that they created a “personal stories series [that] features Witsies from around the world sending in video submissions which represents student perspectives and concerns.” There is also a medical professionals’ series “that features videos from qualified and certified mental health practitioners like psychiatrists and psychologists, directly addressing issues of mental health.”

The responses have been mostly positive. According to Tsumane, “More people are reaching out to help us with the campaign, and every so often a student will message one of us stating how our content has been really helping them get through this difficult and trying time.”.

The campaigns have seen various challenges, however. “There is risk involved in sharing sensitive material such as stories and images from victims,” explained Khumalo. “The current covid-19 pandemic situation, coupled with the issues around access to the internet for many Witsies has affected how many students can actively be a part of #copinginquaratine,” added Tsumane.

Mogashoa also believes that there is still a long way to go for real change to be seen, but despite challenges, she does believe these campaigns are, “a good starting place for people to share their experiences, seek advice and also gain knowledge on important issues.”

Khumalo told Wits Vuvuzela, “We as AIW strongly believe that through a process of constant research and acting on issues of SGBV and mental health, we stand a higher chance of solving the problem. As blatantly optimistic as this may sound, this is what needs to be done in all societies around the world. So, here’s to #Nomoreviolence and #stoptheSILENCE!”

FEATURED IMAGE: Amnesty International Wits virtually ‘stand together’ online during the lockdown in order to help raise awareness for mental health and sexual and gender-based violence issues. Photo: Provided