Sexual exploitation is prevalent at universities in Zimbabwe, amid calls by various stakeholders to step up partnerships to address the problem.
This emerged at a dialogue supported by the Embassies of Sweden and Canada that brought together 10 Universities that was held on Friday 24 May 2019 at the University of Zimbabwe Sport Pavilion. The Deans of the Universities also attended along with SAYWHAT and Katswe Sisterhood and the discussion focused on ways to end sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse in universities in Zimbabwe.
“This initiative by 10 Universities coming together marks the start of a process to step-up efforts to support the safety and success of all students who will be the leaders and productive citizens of this nation. Sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse is one major impediment for progress.
“What does sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse mean? The United Nations in general defines Sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse as any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favour, verbal or physical conduct or gesture of a sexual nature, or any other behaviour of a sexual nature that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offence or humiliation to another,”said Mr. Bishow Parajuli, the UN Zimbabwe Resident Coordinator.
Mr. Parajuli averred a number of ways to prevent sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse in universities. He alluded to alarming statistics whereby nearly two years ago, the Female Students Network Trust to the Zimbabwe gave the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development information that 74% of female students in tertiary institutions had been subjected to sexual harassment by male staffers at campuses throughout the country.
“This is a cause of high concern needing urgent support and interventions. One case of sexual harassment is one-too-many, and that all academic institutions including universities must ensure that the students have the best environment to succeed academically and support students to become empowered adults who can make an honest living and contribute meaningfully to society. As such, these institutions have the responsibility to ensure safe-spaces for students at all times to reach their academic and professional goals,” Mr. Parajuli said.
The UN senior official suggested six measures to end sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse in the Universities in Zimbabwe.
First, he said it was of paramount importance to put clear policies and laws in place that show zero tolerance to sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse among students and within the university as a whole. Mr Parajuli said implementation of the policy and consistent communications of the policy among management, staff, and students is critical to prevent and address sexual exploitation.
Second, he said, is educating students, lecturers, management and staff on what constitutes sexual harassment, and setting up proper reporting procedures on sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse. He called on ensuring that reporting procedures give students and whistle-blowers the assurance that there will be no victimisation should they make reports about incidents.
On the third point, the UN senior official called for development of clear guideline of code-of-conduct or golden-rules on the need to maintain professional, non-exploitative relationships between management, staff, lecturers and students at all times.
“If the guidelines exist disseminate widely online and offline communications platforms of the universities to raise awareness. Fourth, institute a fast-track procedures for addressing complaints and initiate a 24/7 helpline for victims, and provide counselling, legal, and medical services for victims. Fifth, Strong disciplinary measures, including dismissal, must be taken against perpetrators regardless of position or level of influence in campus. And lastly, empower victims and advocates to share their stories and become agents of change as prevention is always better than cure,” Mr Parajuli added.
He reiterated that within the United Nations System, there is a zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse. This policy applies to interactions among fellow UN staff, the people, the UN staff encounter on official duty as well as in their personal lives.
The policy stems from strong commitment of the UN Secretary General and his top leadership and the UN’s commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and overall gender equality in all corners of society.
“It doesn’t mean that sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse doesn’t happen in the UN, but there is strong, accountable and transparent mechanisms and systems in place to tackle the menace head-on.”
Ending sexual harassment articulated in Sustainable Development Goals within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls, under SDG 5, for the elimination of all forms of violence against all women, girls and boys, in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
The United Nations’ in support of Zimbabwe to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and fulfil its international obligation on gender equality has been implementing programmes that specifically aim to address the issues of gender inequality including gender-based violence.
He highlighted the UN Development System’s Zero Tolerance for GBV 365 programme, supported by Sweden and Ireland, and the new EU-UN programme called the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls.
The Zero Tolerance for Gender Based Violence 365 programme supports eight tertiary institutions, providing information on adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights, services and prevention for all forms of gender-based violence.
The Spotlight Initiative will support the development of a national strategy on sexual harassment, which can then be tailored to the nature of various institutions, including the establishment and strengthening of reporting mechanisms to enable students to confidentially report incidents.
It also emerged at the discussion that sexual harassment is prevalent in tertiary Institutions owing to poverty, lack of information, among other ills that need to be addressed.
Sexual harassment was noted as a gender cross cutting issue since it affects both male and female students.
“Male students are also victimized but the issues are usually swept under the carpet. There are reports of sexual harassment of male students by female lecturers. It is only when female students are harassed that the cases are reported prominently,” said Thabani Khumalo, a representative of SAYWHAT.
Poverty was singled out as another cause of sexual harassment. The cases are of harassment are more prevalent among female students.
“Poverty at times leads to ‘body shaming’ that results from structural comparison amongst females. When one is told that you are not beautiful and you do not have a sense of style because you wear shabby clothes and come from a poor family you might end up giving in to abuse so that you emulate others. This usually happens as a result of peer pressure,” an MSU student, Verna Makoni said.
Other students would give in to sexual harassment in order to be awarded more marks in exams by the lecturers.
“Not much study has been done in relation to harassment but as revealed by the student representatives the Concept of ‘thigh for marks’ was prevalent in the realisations from the three studies we have done in Zimbabwe and Tanzania at universities and Malawian vocational centres,” Ms Patricia Machawira the UN Regional HIV and Aids Advisor said.
The Dean of Students at the University of Zimbabwe, Munyaradzi Madambi said that universities had devised policies but there was no desire from students to learn and practice and to that effect sexual harassment still exists.