TWENTY one-year-old Natasha Murenga (not real name) is a bitter young woman.
Her hopes of securing a first class degree at a local university faltered after one of the lecturers demanded to be intimate with her so that she could get better grades.
Female students often suffer in silence under the unwritten code of “a thigh for pass” in which male lecturers solicit for sexual favours in exchange for good grades.
“I am not a loose woman. I turned down the lecturer’s demands and had to drop out of college. The lecturer demanded sex first in exchange for better grades. I told my friends about it and they laughed at me saying they had received the same offers,” she said.
Natasha is one of the many female university students who have fallen prey to sexual harassment at the of their lectures.
According to a survey done by Female Students Network Trust (FSN), 98% of female students have experienced sexual harassment mainly by their lecturers who use final exam marking as a tool to force them to give in to their demands.
Speaking during a dialogue meeting held under the topic Take a Stand, and End Violence Against Young Women and Girls organised by a civic organisation, Stand, recently, FSN director Evernice Munando said a number of students have been sexually harassed.
“The statistics are shocking. Female students are suffering at the hands of their male lecturers who promise them passes in exchange of sexual favours. But this has to end. The female students should come out and report these matters to the police. It is high time we put an end to this,” Munando said.
According to the survey, apart from the lecturers, non-academic staff like security guards and other students at tertiary learning institutions are also sexually harassing female students.
On March 4, a security guard at a tertiary institution in Masvingo, Pedziasai Takawira (35), allegedly raped a female student in return for her identity card he had confiscated after finding her with a boyfriend outside campus.
Takawira – who recently appeared in court over rape allegations – is said to have later summoned the young woman to the guard room and demanded to be intimate with her before he could return her ID before forcing himself on her.
According to the survey, only four tertiary and higher learning institutions in the country have a sexual harassment policy (SHP).
Charlene Chekenya, a director at Stand, an organisation that advocates for the rights of young women, said sexual harassment has become a major cause of concern, but the reporting mechanisms remain unclear.
“Female students in higher and tertiary education institutions in Zimbabwe face a number of untold challenges as they endeavour to complete their education, ranging from financial to social issues. Most of these problems remain silent due to inefficient support systems, a poor understanding of their constitutional rights and limited awareness campaigns on the subject matter,” she said.
She said male lecturers are taking advantage of female students by passing remarks loaded with sexual innuendo and seeking to trade grades with sex, thereby leaving female students in a precarious position.
“Yet the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s Victim Friendly Unit and even the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) have identified few to no reports on sexual harassment in tertiary institutions in Zimbabwe,” she said.
ZRP Victim Friendly Unit (VFU) boss Assistant Commissioner Dadela Bonongwe said there is a problem, but the cases are not being reported to police.
“Since there is this problem, for someone to come up with this dialogue (sexual harassment of female students) it means there is a problem. But for us we say, yes there is a problem, but the cases are not being reported to the police,” he said, adding that they did not get attempted rape, indecent assault and sexual harassment reports against male lecturers.
“Maybe it is the humiliation and stigma associated with these cases, but we are saying as police we try to address this situation of humiliation and stigma through the VFU.”
A University of Zimbabwe department of students affairs official identified only as G Chiganga said the government should ensure that tertiary education institutions should have SHPs for the protection of students.
“Surely, if you are starting an institution without a policy, which is important in protecting students, it means perhaps we got a ministry which superintends institutions of higher learning,” he said.
“Students perhaps only perceive something as harassment if it goes to physical violence. But the very fact that a lecturer comes to you and says he loves you, that is the beginning of harassment.”
Rumbidzai Moyo of ZWLA said courts could only attend to matters brought before them.
“I haven’t meant a case pertaining students female sexual harassment, at least one. This is not reflective of our justice system, because the courts only address cases that are brought before them. I think it is reflective of our personal perceptions and attitudes as a society,” she said.
Speaking on the issue of sexual harassment policy in tertiary institutions, an official from Higher and Tertiary Education ministry who declined to be named said all tertiary institutions have been ordered to submit their SHPs.
“Currently, we have engaged all tertiary institutions to submit their SHPs so that we produce the initial document for tertiary institutions. The argument from head of institutions was that lecturers are under the Public Service Commission and we have Statutory Instrument 1 of 2000 which classifies sexual harassment as an act of misconduct,” he said.
“Then we have also a code conduct for civil servants which talks about sexual harassment. But let me promise you that by the end of this year, all tertiary institutions will have SHPs.
Until then, female students may have to use other available channels to report male staff that exhibit inappropriate behaviour.-Newsday