As the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Chancellor Phumzile Mlambo-Nqcuka once said: “Achieving gender equality is about disrupting the status quo, not negotiating it.’’
On 20 April 2023, the University of Johannesburg’s Transformation Unit hosted a discussion on equitable spaces for women, featuring the First Lady of Namibia, Her Excellency Mrs Monica Geingos. The event, titled “Are our practices inculcating equitable spaces for women,” was attended by members of UJ, including the SRC and students, and was facilitated by the Women’s Forum.
The scourge of GBV and its effects
The conversation topic “Are our practices inculcating equitable spaces for women” was dissected.
To set the scene, Senior Executive Director: University Relations, Student Affairs and UJ Sport, Dr Nolitha Vukuza, shared some of the lived experiences within UJ.
“At UJ, we have in excess of 50 000 students of which the majority are females. Universities, like all institutions, are a microcosm of society. However well-meaning we are, or the programmes we have, the scourge of GBV is with us.”
Dr Vukuza reflected on the two students who died in 2020, off campus, due to GBV.
“Violence is not limited to physical harm, it includes emotional violation, financial oppression, social alienation and all other forms of abuses that stand in the way of self-determination, expression and realisation.”
UJ Vice-Chancellor and Principal Prof Letlhokwa Mpedi reiterated the reality of gender disparity and emphasised that creating a more level playing field requires challenging societal mindsets. He also noted that failing to do so results in wage gaps, unequal opportunities, and GBV.
In Conversation with The First Lady
H.E. Geingos spoke about the importance of discussing difficult topics like gender-based violence (GBV) and acknowledged the role of patriarchy in perpetuating it. She emphasised the need for collective action to dismantle patriarchy and prevent GBV, saying “We need to understand our roles as enablers and perpetrators and how we can make it better for survivors.”
As the First Lady of Namibia, H.E. Monica Geingos has been a prominent advocate for the eradication of GBV in the country. In 2016, she founded the One Economy Foundation, which focuses on socio-economic development and empowerment of women and youth.
H.E. Geingos noted that lack of respect for the inherent dignity of others is at the root of social ills, including GBV. She urged universities, families, and governments to do more to address the issue and advocated for changing mindsets and promoting accountability. Additionally, H.E. Geingos stressed the complexity of GBV and the need for criminal justice reform and attention to the healing of survivors and their families.
Voices of the Institution
UJ’s Prof Corne Davis presented on the high rates of gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa, particularly among students in higher education. She shared statistics indicating that South Africa has six times higher rates of intimate partner violence compared to the global average. Additionally, students living off-campus are particularly vulnerable to predators, and there have been 8 murders of students in higher education by March 10th of this year.
During the Covid lockdown, over 23,000 teenage pregnancies occurred in South Africa. Prof Davis emphasised the responsibility of higher learning institutions to educate stakeholders on GBV. She also discussed her collaboration with the Tears Foundation to develop a dashboard to report on emergency GBV calls made over the past five years, including those related to Covid and post-Covid GBV distress calls. Her research on the prevalence of GBV in the workplace can be found here.
Utilising AI to address Gender-Based Violence
UJ’s Dr Stella Bvuma HOD: Applied Information Systems presented on the Technopreneurship Centre’s efforts to address societal problems, including gender-based violence (GBV), using artificial intelligence (AI).
Undergraduate students produce AI to identify patterns and predict potential GBV incidents, while postgraduate students create AI-powered chatbots that provide confidential accessible support to GBV survivors. However, Dr Bvuma noted that AI is only as good as the data it is trained on and can perpetuate harmful stereotypes if the data is biased and discriminatory.
The Centre is working on various projects to support women and adapt technologies to address issues related to violence against women, safety, and access to education and healthcare. The Centre launched a GBV technology application to locate missing persons in 2021 and is seeking technologies that can create a real fear for perpetrators and assist in apprehending them. The goal is to empower women and make it harder for criminals to get away with GBV and femicide.
A Q&A session followed the conversation before Registrar Prof Bettine van Vuuren closed the event with a vote of thanks.