A group of women academics, together with two male counterparts sat down to talk gender enequality at the Wits Chalsty Centre ahead of National Women’s Day today.
Wits politics lecturer Prof Shireen Hassim directed the discussions on Friday, noting her frustrations with Women’s Day.
No to Womens Day?
“I have antipathy for days like Women’s Day – because on 365 days of the year I work with women’s issues”, said Hassim noting the inequalities women face on a day-to-day basis as uncelebratory.
“Our culture never knew how to deal with the woman issue”,
Gender inequality dominated the discussion when CALS (Centre for Applied Legal Studies) associate Charmika Samaradiwakara-Wijesundara said: “I find myself as a raging academic in a country that is so deeply unequal”.
Mashile Phalane, community liaison officer at CALS, and one of only two men in the room, said that there has been no official recognition of the role gender and culture in society.
“Our culture never knew how to deal with the ‘woman’ issue”, said Phalane who suggested that the confusion between these issues has contributed to the promotion of patriarchy.
Hassim responded saying that “the pulpits of our culture have put on a certain kind of interpretation – culture has been used to destabilise movements that will help stop the progression of women”.
Hassim added that there has been little done to promote gender issues at a political level. “Politics refers to the space in which we find the political voice”, suggesting that the structures of power have displaced issues of gender.
A “very senior” member of management has been accused of using his position to quash allegations against him, the sexual harassment report has revealed.
This is the fifth allegation of sexual harassment since the start of the inquiry. Three lecturers have been fired while the final investigation on Dr Lord Mawuko-Yevugah of the international relations department is still pending.[pullquote]“to encourage other staff and student representatives to coerce the student to retract the complaint and not to take the matter any further”[/pullquote]
The report, which was released last week, says the senior member of staff used his influence “to encourage other staff and student representatives to coerce the student to retract the complaint and not to take the matter any further”.
Prof Bonita Meyersfeld, director of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), said she could not say who the accused was or how many people made the accusation due to a confidentiality agreement with all the people who spoke to the committee during the inquiry.
Meyersfeld said she was not certain whether this specific case was investigated.
“Well my honest answer is that I do not think so, but I do not know that for sure.”
At the press conference held last week, Meyersfeld said other perpetrators were discovered during the inquiry, but cases were dealt with on a confidential basis and unless students asked for their accusations to be pursued, they were not.[pullquote align=”right”]“We pursued various other avenues to get to the bottom of it [new cases]. But in those instances our findings yielded no further investigation.” [/pullquote]
Meyersfeld said, however, that she was not certain if there was an explicit instruction from the senior staff member’s accuser/s that this matter should not be investigated.
Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib told the press that all the matters that came to their attention during the inquiry were investigated although nothing materialised.
“We pursued various other avenues to get to the bottom of it [new cases]. But in those instances our findings yielded no further investigation,” Habib said.
One of the report’s recommendations was to have a new, independent sexual harassment office. Meyersfeld said this was important in cases like this where a member of staff from the vice chancellor’s office may be involved.
“We realise that the proposed office must be completely autonomous so that if someone from the vice chancellor’s office is affected, a person can go directly to levels as high as senate.”
The inquiry was officially started on February 1, after the Sunday Times published an article on the allegations against drama lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu.
The report says, however, that the Legal Office began the process of establishing the inquiry after Wits Vuvuzela published an article in September last year about a professor who asked students for sex.
The aim of the inquiry was not to investigate specific cases of sexual harassment but to find out how prevalent the problem is on campus.
It was conducted by Meyersfeld along with other members of CALS and lawyers from law firm Norton Rose. Together, they compiled the report and made recommendations for the university to deal with cases of sexual harassment on campus more effectively.