This was the view of Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Tinyiko Maluleke, speaking at the Women Leadership Forum (WOLF) event that took place on 3 August, at the Pretoria Campus.
Prof Maluleke’s message titled: “Daring to Disturb the Sounds of Silence: Tackling Gender-Based Violence in Universities” began with a reflection of the 20’000 women who marched on the tower of Apartheid power – the Union Building in 1956. His powerful message was focussed on the need to mobilise men in the national effort to overcome gender-based violence. Zooming in on the situation in universities, Prof Maluleke argued that, for the tide to turn against gender based violence, more men should cease to be part of the problem but seek to be part of the solution. To this end, a fair amount of his keynote was focussed on the strategies and tactics needed to overcome gender based violence in the university setting.
While applauding the fearlessness and the discipline of the women who marched on the Union Buildings in 1956, Prof Maluleke noted the silencing and the silences of women which continues to this day, including in universities. He was at pains to distinguish between the different kinds of silences of women today, especially the difference between imposed silence, silence brought about when women and their work are rendered invisible, as well as the strategic silence of women who may choose, on occasion, to be silent, so they can live to fight another day.
To this end Prof Maluleke noted that in order for men and women to join hands in fighting the scourge of gender-based violence, it is necessary to learn to read and to understand both the silencing and the silences of women and the LGBTI communities in our universities and in society at large. It is also necessary, he argued, to be able to read and to understand the absenting and the absences of women, within the university system, its ranks, its structures, its processes and its policies.
In this regard, Prof Maluleke proposed that, by and large, women’s presence in universities shows up as a form of absenting in knowledge production, in institutional cultures, in policy and in the higher echelons of the academy, as women are rendered absent and invisible.
Prof Maluleke suggested that: “We need the epistemological language, the theoretical eyes, and astute ears to hear, to see and to articulate the absences through which women are present, and the silences through which women are speaking in the academy. Their voices will be heard.”
To conclude his speech, Prof Maluleke invoked the words of a old song by Simon and Garfunkel, titled “sounds of silence”.