Citizen Voices / News

Who determines my gender?

two students not conforming to gender classification. Photo: Thandi Bombi

two students not conforming to gender classification. Photo: Thandi Bombi

Gender awareness issues have proved to affect more than the students and Academic staff at Rhodes University. Thandi Bombi Reports on the latest events to inspire change.

He just stood there, dumbfounded by what he had just heard. If his beard, his deep voice and his masculine walk were not enough to prove his manhood, then the active decision to stand in the line designated for men should have been sign enough that Lindokhuhle Zungu, Student Representative Councilor’s (SRC) Activism and Transformation councilor, is, in fact, a male.

On the evening of 21 February, 2015, Zungu faced the embarrassing task of having to explain to security personnel at The Great Field party that he is a man. After being questioned repeatedly and giving the same response, the security guard finally gave in and apologised for his assumption, “You have a beautiful female face,” said the security guard, “it’s not easy to tell, when someone has a beautiful face.”

Whether this was fate or one of life’s uncanny little ironies, it will never be clear. From the moment that Zungu found out that your face determines your gender, he set out to get to the bottom of this and bring about change.

In a post Zungu posted on the Rhodes University SRC Facebook page the day after the incident, he outlined what he believes is the most important issue about gender awareness at Rhodes, “Rhodes University should have gender awareness projects that run throughout our University and not just for the academics and students but also inclusive of the support staff,” said Zungu, “there are students that have had to excuse racist, sexist and homophobic comments and they excuse them because of the belief that support staff are not aware of the transformation the world has taken.” he added.

Awareness on issues of gender have come second place to those that are believed to affect a lager spectrum of individuals, “I think it’s important to stress that gender issues are everybody’s issues,” said Gender Action Project (GAP) chairperson, Gorata Chengeta, “there are many attitudes and beliefs which can hold back progress in achieving gender equality and it’s crucial that we collectively interrogate these ideas.” Chengeta went on to explain that the problem is a lack of education in society as a whole, which leads to very rigid ideas of gender and that gender is more of a spectrum, and the way a person identifies their gender is different for every individual.

While Zungu’s post received support and appreciation from most there are some who did not agree with his way of doing things, “I think Mr Zungu may have slightly over reacted,” said honors student Rhodes student Mike Mabuya, “as someone who is as exposed to the world as he is, he should have used that as an opportunity to educate the security guard, more importantly, he should have offered an alternative way that a person in the position of the guard could have handled the situation.” Mabuya went on to add that issues of gender and sexuality are very sensitive and complex issues and approaching them with a certain bias could do more harm than good.

On the other hand, the Office of Institutional Culture has contacted Zungu about the initiatives the unit has on hand that aim to bring about gender awareness for all the staff, “The office will run two workshops this year for National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) members,” said Director of Equity and Institutional Culture, Noluxolo Nhlapho, “Gender issues will be tackled as part of the programme and we hope that in our pursuing this objective of raising awareness on gender issues amongst members of NEHAWU we will develop a working partnership with Gender Action Forum.”  Nhlapo went on to add that the unit would also be happy to work with the SRC and Campus Protection Unit in taking this programme to the individuals tasked with making this institution safe.

With heavy pressure on gender institutions at Rhodes University, one can rest assured that someone is working to rectify this problem of unawareness. However, while it may be simple to look to others to fix things, do we not have personal responsibility towards educating ourselves and others?

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