A newly appointed ministerial task team has begun work this month to address sexual harassment and gender-based violence at South Africa’s public universities. As we’ve reported all too many times, gender-based violence and assaults are a serious scourge across the country’s campuses. The appointment of the team follows an open letter written by a group of academics to Minister of Higher Education and Training Naledi Pandor in March.

At the end of last month, Pandor approved a nine member ministerial task team to advise her on matters relating to sexual harassment and gender-based violence at universities. The department has also released its Policy Framework to address Gender-based Violence in the Post-School Education and Training sector for public comment. The department said the purpose of the policy framework is to ensure “everyone has the right to live, study and work freely and safely… without any fear of sexual/gender-based intimidation, harassment, abuse, rape or other forms of sexual/gender-based harm”.

Some of the issues that the team will advise the minister on include: measures to ensure that sexual offenders do not escape justice and repeat offences in other institutions; putting in place appropriate levels of support for victims of sexual offences; as well as identifying policy weaknesses across institutions that contribute to failures to manage sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

The announcement of the team was welcomed by the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) in a statement, where it noted that while most institutions have sexual harassment policies in place, there were distinct limitations in their implementation and enforcement. The CGE had previously found that the department lacked “responsive gender budgeting and gender system management to monitor, evaluate and implement gender transformation, both internally and externally within the educational institutions”. It recommended that the department develop “policies to deal with the scourge of gender-based violence within institutions of higher learning” and that the department develop gender equity policies with set targets for higher education institutions.

It remains to be seen whether the task team will make a tangible difference for women on campuses, but we at SNG hope they succeed so we can run fewer headlines like Silent protest at NMU as alleged rapist graduates and Rape, male student leaders and an institutionalised system of protection.