The first days in a new job may be daunting for some, but for Thembelihle Bongwana, the newly appointed Gender Non-Violence Coordinator at Division Student Affairs Stellenbosch University (SU), it was a different ball game. It wasn't long after she'd entered a very quiet Huis Simon Nkoli House on the morning of 1st February when she suddenly heard giggles and laughter clad with excitement echoing from the house corridors as staff members at the Equality Unit (EqU) gathered to give her a warm welcome.
The appointment of Thembelihle follows a countrywide search to get a suitable candidate who would breathe life to the newly established Gender Non-Violence Portfolio at the EqU within the Centre for Student Counselling and Development (CSCD), Division of Student Affairs (DSA). The decision to form this portfolio came from the university's announcement that a gender non-violence response be setup, to ensure culture change and the sustainability of culture change, and through which matters related to gender-based violence will be coordinated and monitored, following the release of the SU EndRapeCulture Report 2017.
Based on the findings and recommendations of the report, the EqU, under the leadership of Jaco Greeff Brink, proposed the formation of this portfolio to address some of the significant challenges raised in the report.
Although this is a new position, the 32-year-old Thembi who originates from East London in the Eastern Cape is no stranger to gender matters, both professionally and academically. The self-proclaimed talkative individual started paving her career path back in 2009 when she landed her professional role as a Gender and Development Intern at the Transkei Land Service Organisation (TRALSO). However, that was just a starting point to spearhead and mainstream gender into programmatic work. Amongst others, she left the following career footprints:
- Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA): Cape Town Parliamentary Office as a Social Policy Officer in 2014
- 3rd-year tutor for Gender and Development module at the University of the Western Cape 2015-16.
As a registered doctoral degree (PhD) candidate in Gender Studies at the University of Western Cape (UWC), some of her research interests are around masculinities, gender and development, gendered power dynamics, public eating spaces, social identities, transformation, sexuality and gender violence.
According to Mr Brink, Thembelihle was chosen for the position because she comes with a background on gender-related matters and has a clear vision of what the opportunities and challenges of this kind of position are. “She brings a strong combination of professional and academic backgrounds. We are excited to have her in our team to work towards a gender violence-free campus" – said Mr Brink.
According to Dr Birgit Schreiber, Senior Director: DSA, one of the primary responsibilities of this portfolio is to develop a comprehensive institutional response to gender violence and rape culture at SU. To do so, the Gender Non-Violence Coordinator will work with various stakeholders within the university to create and solidify shared responsibility in all spheres of the University.
Thembi says that as a South African woman, she is aware of many of these challenges and that her academic and professional background has conscientised her around the most sensitive political and social implications of working in the gender field. “Rape culture is one beast that continues to infiltrate our social spaces causing distress to many in places that are meant to be conducive to learning and homes-away from home, yet reports of rape or offences of a sexual nature which encompass violence have been rife across south African communities" she adds.
Acknowledging that the problem is much bigger than universities, Thembi emphasizes that Rape Culture is also deeply rooted in societies. She says as part of society and a key role player, SU seeks to equip its students to be agents of sustainable change in societies where they come from.
“The EqU may steer the ship, but we need all our stakeholders on board to make Stellenbosch University live up to its 0% tolerance approach to all forms of unfair discrimination and forms of harassment". “The overall goal is to see a diversified Maties community living and excelling together in a crime free, misconduct free, injustice free, abuse free, transgression free etc. society ", she concludes.
Feel free to contact Thembelihle at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 021 808 3136.