Wits hailed for allowing students to change gender prefixes


Wits University (Pic: Samuel Molepo)

As from this month, students at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg will be able to choose a gender title that affirms their gender.

This means they will be given the choice to change how they are referred to by the university, for example, from Mr to Ms, or Mrs to Mr. The options available include the gender neutral title Mx (pronounced ‘mix’).

The change is only applicable to university correspondence and internal use. All legally binding documents will still use the title aligned to the students’ legal gender marker.

“This decision affirms those who are transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming within the university community, who wish to hold a title that affirms their identity,” said the Wits Transformation and Employment Equity Office in a statement.

“The university recognises that it is invalidating and distressing for a person who, for an example, was assigned female at birth but identifies as male to be constantly addressed by a non-affirming title in university correspondence and systems. Increasingly, people who are transgender or non-binary opt to use the gender- neutral title, ‘Mx’, which is legally recognised in many countries across the world.”

Transgender South Africans continue to face ongoing challenges at Home Affairs in having their gender markers changed in their identity documents. The department has been repeatedly accused of discriminatory behavior, stalling applications and unfairly denying and delaying the life-affecting changes.

The Gender and Equality Commission’s Javu Baloyi told EWN that the commission welcomed the move by Wits and called on Home Affairs to follow its example.

“When people want to be identified without a prefix before their name, let Home Affairs allow them to do so,” said Baloyi. “This is very progressive for the country. We’ve got countries like Australia who have done so before us and we hope this can be taken forward.”

In 2016, Wits made headlines when it introduced a number of gender neutral bathrooms on campus. While trans students could already make use of the male or female bathrooms that they identify with, the new bathrooms were aimed at gender non-confirming students who may not feel safe or comfortable using one of the two traditional gender options.

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