Is freedom and dignity for women advancing or regressing in Institutions of Higher Learning?

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The year 2019, marks the 25th year of South Africa’s attainment of democracy. Of particular relevance is the month of April, which was dedicated as a National Freedom Month. The 27 April 1994 and subsequently, the adoption of the 1996 Constitution bear great significance for South Africa’s freedom. The day provided a stepping-stone from the bondages of the apartheid system and all its ills to the promise of liberation and freedom. The apartheid period did not only compromise the human rights for the majority of South Africans but pierced like a sharp sword and dehumanised the social, moral and ethical fabric of our societies. The 27th April is highly acclaimed as the day that affirmed the dignity of the majority of South Africans. It is the day when the right to vote was restored and right to full citizenship in the Republic of South Africa was given equally to all. It is of further significance for women who laid the foundation for their rights way back in 1956 and thereby paved the way for enjoyment of rights for all South Africans. Focusing on this history, April is not just about the reflection of the past but the transformative ideals from the abhorrent past, taking cognisance of the road still to be travelled by women in the enjoyment of their rights. The bleak past will not repeat itself as women took a lead in the struggle against subordination in the exercise of their right to “vote” as equals in South Africa.The time for a concerted action to advance the constitutional and international human rights has to be accelerated, particularly in institutions of higher learning. Young women are subject to various forms of abuse, gender-based violence; which undermine their freedom and dignity.

It is time to Speak Truth to Power against discrimination and abuses experienced by young women in institutions of higher learning including our own. The situation exacerbates due to lack of effective policy guidelines that deal with sexual abuse and violent behaviour against young women.The Constitution and all the international human rights instruments, which South Africa ratified and adopted into domestic law and policy were a direct response to the restoration of respect and fundamental human rights for all. These instruments are an affirmation of a common standard that rights are universal and for one humanity.


Despite the progress and sacrifices made, it is disheartening that young women – our mothers and leaders of tomorrow continue to be stripped of their dignity by being subject to untold suffering, physical and psychological pain. We ask, given our history and historical prestige and significance of our institution, have we fallen into amnesia? The answer lies in restoring the institution as the gatekeeper of education that builds consciousness, self-respect and respect for gender and diversity by upholding the University of Fort Hare Charter on Ethical Principles and Values spearheaded by the UNESCO ‘Oliver Tambo’ Chair of Human Rights. This will create an entry point for a dialogue that seeks to bring young men and women and their mentors in constant interaction while promoting a robust human rights awareness; and civic education that is couched in bold ideas meant to address the insidious spread of the violation of the rights of young women. Speaking Truth to Power, the month of April is a renewal of the struggles of the women of 1956 and a commitment to the future that is free of all forms of gender based violence, abuse and discrimination against women.

Written by Prof Nomthandazo Ntlama

From the desk of the UNESCO ‘Oliver Tambo’ Chair of Human Rights (UFH).

Photo extracted from - POWA