by MARCUS MUSHONGA
HARARE, (CAJ News) – INSTITUTIONS of higher learning such as universities, while being sources of knowledge, can be unsafe spaces for students due to sexual harassment mostly by their educators.
This is particularly so in Zimbabwe where according to statistics, over 70 percent of female students in tertiary institutions have been subjected to sexual harassment by male staffers at campuses throughout the country.
It is in the backdrop of these violations that ten local universities have convened a dialogue to end sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse in higher learning institutions.
The initiative has been launched at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in the capital Harare where students, academic authorities, civil society organisations and diplomatic corps converged.
Patricia Machawira, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Regional HIV and Health Education Advisor, lamented that sexual exploitation and harassment had rendered tertiary institutions hazardous for female students.
“Sexual harassment is rampant in technical and vocational institutions because they are male dominated,” she argued.
Machawira added poverty was a major driver of risky sexual behaviour in tertiary institutions.
Venna Makoni, a student at the Midlands State University (MSU) in Gweru, Midlands province, lamented the prevalence of incidents where students were forced to engage in sexual activities to earn higher marks.
“Thigh for a mark is real. It is happening at varsity,” she said.
The abuse, it emerged, is not solely the transgression of lecturers, Makoni said.
She shared a story of a friend who was enduring sexual harassment by a boyfriend.
“She was afraid to come out in the open because of fear of victimisation,” Makoni said.
Munyaradi Madambi, the Dean of Students at UZ, recommended the naming and shaming of perpetrators.
“Protecting the reputation of the university at the expense of students is not fair,” he said.
Bishow Parajuli, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Zimbabwe, expressed dismay at the prevalence of abuse that the Female Students Network Trust presented to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development.
According to the organisation, 74 percent of female students in tertiary institutions have been subjected to sexual harassment by male staffers.
“This is a cause of high concern needing urgent support and interventions,” Parajuli said.
“One case of sexual harassment is one-too-many” the envoy said.
Parajuli called for the enacting of clear policies and laws in place that show zero tolerance to sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse among students.
He advocated for the educating of students, lectures, management and staff on what constitutes sexual harassment, and set up proper reporting procedures on sexual exploitation as well as strong disciplinary measures, including dismissal of perpetrators.
The Swedish International Development Agency, estimated that the aggregate cost of gender violence in Zimbabwe in 2009, was US$ 2 billion.
– CAJ News