School Governing Bodies
Ladies and Gentlemen
Programme Director; it pains me to speak at yet another public gathering about gender-based violence that disproportionately affects women and children.
But as a gender activist as well as a public representative I have a moral as well as constitutional obligations to never tire in helping society to come to terms with the shame, hurt and tears of women and children.
Programme Director; we must understand the gravity of gender based-violence as a second epidemic as we battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
For instance, during the earlier stages of the COVID-19 national lockdown, the police service reported a sudden spike in gender-based violence. As we know, today numbers keep rising, and so it is the extent of depravity.
The situation is dire. Research shows that school-going female learners are the hardest hit, especially in disadvantaged communities.
Recent statistics show that more than a third of girls and boys (35.4%) experience sexual violence before the age of 17.
Teen births remain unacceptably high and impacting negatively on learning and teaching.
Only one-third of girls stay in school during their pregnancy and return following childbirth. This creates poverty traps in affected families.
Sexual violence at schools not only compromise the learning environment but carries long-term negative mental and sexual health consequences for the victim, mostly women.
We believe that schools must inherently be safe havens for learning and nurturing young minds.
We are of the firm view that safe and secure schools offer our learners an opportunity to develop their full potential without any hindrance.
As a country, we must banish the shame of gender-based violence, a man-made crisis.
As Government, we are seized with this matter, including crafting the new amendments to strengthen the gender-based related legislations to better protect survivors and victims.
In recent weeks cabinet has approved various legislative amendments to strengthen the fight against gender-based violence.
These amendments include declaring a silence when one witness a neighbour or friend involved in gender-based violence a criminal offence.
Today, I urge society to stand up and report these gender-related crimes to the authorities.
If you see something, say something to the correct authorities.
Another significant amendment proposed is to make the National Register for Sex Offenders publicly available.
This will enable society and employers to spot possible repeat offender and stop them before they struck yet again.
We have also proposed to expand the category of gender-based violence offences for which minimum sentences such as life imprisonment must be imposed.
However, what this country needs is a new value system that puts respect for women’s dignity and sanctity of life above everything else.
On the ruins of the heightened GBV incidents that occurred during the Covid- 19 lockdown, a new man must emerge. He must never raise his hand and voice against any woman or child.
He must never lower his pants in front of his children.
Unfortunately, no piece of legislative amendments will give us this new society we seek to build. It is truly in our hands as GBV activists, victims, perpetrators and survivors.
Furthermore, we must not underestimate the power disclosure and storytelling as a form of healing for the victims of gender-based violence.
If you’re abused, and/or living in fear, tell someone. Healing begins the minute you declare that enough is enough: my life matters. My happiness matters! My safety is a priority! Let’s not die in silence.
We are also playing our part as the national Basic Education in the national effort to stem the tide of gender-based violence against women and children.
In this regard, our education officials are being orientated around the country on the new National Strategic Plan for Gender-based Violence and Femicide launched by the President recently.
As an education sector, we have our Protocol and strategies in place to deal with the incidents of gender-based violence.
There’s a handbook for learners on how to prevent sexual abuse in public schools, titled Speak Out - Youth Report Sexual Abuse.
The purpose of the handbook is to equip learners with knowledge and understanding of sexual harassment and sexual violence, its implications, ways to protect themselves from perpetrators, and where to report.
The handbook also provides handy contact details of national and provincial organisations that can assist.
For instance, our longstanding Protocol for the Management and Reporting of Sexual Abuse and Harassment in Schools is being workshopped anew around the country. We thank UNICEF for financial support.
We have also adopted the UNICEF inspired INSPIRE Indicator Guidance and Results Framework, which is a set of evidence-based strategies for preventing and responding to violence against children.
We are also part of the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children.
Therefore, we are committed to making sure that all our young people learn under such nurturing school environments - so that - they too can become active citizens of a thriving nation at peace with itself.
Furthermore, we are committed to making sure that all our young people learn under such nurturing school environments - so that - they too can become active citizens of a thriving nation at peace with itself.
But, the reality is that we live in a violent society.
Thus, the violence seen at schools accentuates the dictum that schools are in fact, the microcosm of society.
In this regard, we convened the 2nd Schools Safety Summit in October 2018, which revised and strengthened the National Schools Safety Framework.
The Framework calls for greater synergy between schools and fencing communities.
All Schools are required to form School Safety Committees and work with the local police and other crime-fighting groups in the community.
As part of this Framework, we have a Memorandum of Understanding with the South African Police Services (SAPS) to respond urgently to the school-related crimes.
On our part, we have declared corporal punishment as a criminal offence in all our schools. The idea is to eliminate any form of violence in the learning environment.
We have developed and published the Protocol to Deal with Incidences of Corporal punishment in schools as a way to induce the teachers to do the right thing.
The Protocol foregrounds the following areas: The steps to be taken by provincial, district, circuit and School Management Teams in reporting the incidents of corporal punishment as well as sexual abuse and harassment in schools.
Ultimately as a responsible Basic Education Department, we believe that long-term behavioural changes can only be achieved through education.
Hence all our learners (over 12 million of them) study a subject known as the Life Orientation.
One of the critical themes in Life Orientation is called Comprehensive Sexuality Education.
Sexuality education has been part of the curriculum since the year 2000.
The aim of the Comprehensive Sexuality Education and, its Scripted Lesson Plans is to ensure that we help learners to build an understanding of concepts, content, values and attitudes related to sexuality.
It also addresses the issue of sexual behaviour change as well as strategies for leading safe and healthy lives.
Sadly we must admit that as the Department of Basic Education, we are at the receiving end of the society’s social ills.
As a result, we have had to put strategies in place to deal with non-curricula issues such as the scourge of drug use amongst learners.
We have strengthened the implementation of the National Strategy for the Prevention and Management of Alcohol and Drug Use Amongst Learners in Schools.
We have done so through a partnership with the African Youth Development Fund (AYDF), a non-governmental organisation.
Jointly, we have developed a Resource Kit – High on Life in response to substance abuse by learners in schools. The Kit includes Educators’ Facilitation Manual for learner representatives and School Safety Committees.
The strategy focuses mostly on prevention because the majority of learners do not abuse alcohol and drugs.
However, we aim to create an enabling environment for those who have become addicted to alcohol and drugs to access treatment, care and support services.
We are declaring war on taverns that operate close to our schools. Our joint campaign with the police codenamed ‘Valikhontjie,’ intends to close down all pubs within 500m radius of the schools.
We are also intensifying crime prevention through search and seizure of dangerous weapons and removal of drugs.
Eventually, we hope to instil behavioural change amongst learners, teachers and communities to aim for clean hands: free of germs literally in the context of COVID-19; and free of gender-based violence at the same time.
I thank you.