An excited Ms Shongani Dladla graduated cum laude from UKZN with her Honours degree in Gender Education for her research that examines understandings of sexual violence in schools.
This is in response to the rise of sexual violence in learning environments. Dladla, a recipient of the UKZN Distinguished Leadership Award, identified that there are many misconceptions regarding this challenge. ‘I aim to continue to learn as much as I can about this topic and try to help the next generation to avoid falling into the same trap,’ she said.
The research findings reveal that ‘although girls in South Africa have better access to a school than their counterparts, they are confronted with high levels of sexual violence and sexual harassment in schools that impede their access to education on equal terms with male students.’
Dladla uncovered the negative connection between sexual violence and sexting (a practice of sending sexually explicit photographs or messages via a mobile phone) which comes with negative consequences that this activity could create, especially when content is shared with others.
‘Towards the end, I went through the impact of sexual violence in schools which included HIV acquisition; anxiety and trauma; impacts in education as well as impacts on learners’ self-esteem and wellbeing,’ she added.
Dladla unpacked some strategies that could help curb sexual violence in schools such as utilisation of the curriculum; hiring social workers for better outcomes; as well as promoting cooperation between educators and parents.
She believes that her research will ultimately help educators and parents to identify sexual abuse behaviours in children; supervise their (children’s) phones using an anti-bullying app; and help children/learners to identify sexual predators within their surroundings.
Even though Dladla had to deal with the loss of a loved one during her research, she admits her family and friends provided her with a safe space and nest to rest during those times. She is also grateful to her supervisor, Professor Shakila Singh who encouraged her to explore issues that affect children in schools.
She advised other researchers to take good care of their mental health and take necessary breaks in order to recharge.
Dladla plans to pursue her Master’s in Education, focusing on how university students who self-identify as gay and lesbian navigate their lives whilst at university and home.