09 March 2020 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Sonia Small
Human Rights
Human Rights Month is a time to reflect on the past and celebrate the present.

On 21 March 2020, South Africa will celebrate Human Rights Day. The day has a specific meaning, as it commemorates the Sharpeville massacre which took place on 21 March 1960 in Sharpeville in the Vaal. After the community demonstrated against the pass laws, about 7,000 protesters went to the local police station where the South African Police opened fire on the crowd, killing 69 people and injuring 180.
The past, although dark and tragic, holds the power to propel a nation forward. Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State (UFS), Prof Francis Petersen, said: “In remembering this day, we have the opportunity to reflect on progress in the promotion and protection of human rights in South Africa.”
Prof Petersen expressed pride in the great strides made at the UFS in this regard and which are cause for celebration. “As a university community, let us join the rest of the country this month and celebrate the rights of all people to be protected from violation, irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, etc. Let us observe this day and stand together to promote respect for human rights,” he said.

Policies with a purpose
UFS is guided by principles of non-discrimination and values which seek to uphold the rights of all humans as stipulated in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Staff, students, and the general public enjoy the protection and dignity with policies such as Anti-Discrimination, Promotion of Equality and Social Justice Policy, the Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence Policy, the Social Support Policy, as well as the Student Pregnancy Policy.

The objective of the Anti-Discrimination, Promotion of Equality, and Social Justice Policy is to clarify, deepen and promote an understanding of equality, social justice and unfair discrimination among the university community. In addition to other aims, it seeks to identify and promote an understanding of barriers to equality, as well as the various forms and practices of unfair discrimination that may occur. Preventing and eradicating such practices, identifying bullying practices within the various vertical and horizontal relationships at the university, is the policy’s ultimate mandate.

In a country plagued by gender-based violence and related crimes, the Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence Policy becomes all the more significant. The policy’s purpose includes establishing a safe and enabling environment, free from sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and sexual violence, for all UFS community members. Support for victims and putting disciplinary procedures for perpetrators in place is a high priority within the policy. 

Human Rights are of utmost importance for a transforming institution such as ours. Hence, the Centre for Universal Access and Disability Support (CUADS) recently released the Social Support Policy Draft for public input. Its overarching goal is to establish an institutional climate and conditions that enable the UFS to retain its students and improve their chances of success by providing appropriate social support. 
As far as the Student Pregnancy Policy is concerned, creating conditions that are conducive for academic success and wellbeing during pregnancy is one of the ways in which the university upholds the human rights of mothers-to-be. The policy also ensures that pregnant students are not excluded from academic programmes, residences and other university activities.

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