6 April 2016
Saarah Survé, Stellenbosch Department of Journalism
Stellenbosch University – Irene primaria, Lize-Mari Doubell, and Majuba primarius, Hein Stegmann, have collaborated to change male students’ perceptions of females, after degrading posters were placed around Majuba residence last week.
A first-year student on Majuba’s social committee put up degrading posters advertising a social event with the women’s residence, Irene. Doubell, head of the women empowerment task team, was notified and immediately cancelled the social.
“We had to think carefully about our next move,” said Doubell. “Reporting a residence to the university’s Equality Unit is the normal route that is taken when there is a case of discrimination, gender inequality or objectification, but we wanted to engage with Majuba.”
Doubell explained that Irene did not want to take disciplinary action, because behaviours would not have changed through disciplinary action alone. “All that Majuba would have to do is tick the boxes; apologise, appear before the committees and panels and be banned from a social event.”
“We decided to work with Majuba to combat rape culture and the objectification of women. For first-year students to think that it is okay to make degrading posters about women, speaks to a greater culture of what residences and men allow. Residences are normalising the objectification of women,” said Doubell.
Doubell said she told Majuba’s house committee members that Irene wanted to see tangible change take place in Majuba’s culture. “It’s about more than one poster; it’s about changing the culture of men’s residences on campus, and creating a positive impact.”
Stegmann said that Irene’s decision not to report them has been a massive blessing. “When you are reported, it feels like all you are trying to do is defend yourself. You start in a defensive mind-set. But as soon as someone is willing to work with you, you know that their intentions are good.”
Stegmann said it has been a whirlwind week for Majuba with many conversations, group discussions, education and progression.
“In my four years in Majuba, we have never had critical discussions about women empowerment and gender equality.
“First the guys said that maybe Irene was too sensitive, but then they started asking questions; how do we feel, is it offensive, and what is the problem,” said Stegmann.
“I saw them click. They realised they have to change. This situation has been a call for not only Majuba men to step up, but all men,” said Stegmann. “It is a dark cloud with a silver lining. It’s our image that is being made an example of, but in the long run, it’s for the good.”
The two residences had an optional rape culture talk on Tuesday night, with about 90 Majuba men out of 150 present. Doubell said it was evident that rape culture was a new concept for a lot of them.
“There was a lack of understanding, and it is clear that there is a gap in men’s education.”
However, Doubell said that the men were open to the idea. “They didn’t take a defensive stance. They are tackling the issue head-on, and I think that’s what will make a huge difference.”
Doubell said that there is still a lot of work to be done on both sides. They have asked Majuba to consider being the first men’s residence on campus to have a women empowerment portfolio on their house committee.
Next on their agenda is a meeting with the heads of all 44 residences and private student organisations.