Zimbabwe Gender Commission sheds light of the complexities of the scourge in higher education

“We need to understand the nuances at play. When you are sexually harassed, you are not just harassed as a woman, but a poor African student!”

“Blanket approaches to sexual harassment do not work and we must look at the individual cases and give a face to the abuse.”

“We must not blame the victim. There is always a justification that an assault or offence has happened because the victim acted, dressed or behaved in a certain way. Victim blaming must stop!”

These were but a few of the comments from the audience who attended a public lecture on sexual harassment in higher education delivered by the Zimbabwe Gender Commission on the 24th of October 2019 at the main campus in Mutare. The lecture delivered by the Chief Executive Officer of the ZGC Mrs Susan Muwanigwa as well as Ms. Sandra Mudzengerere (Public Education and Information Manager) and Mr. Logic Shenjere (Public Relations Officer) was both thought provoking and challenging as it they presented aspects of sexual harassment that are often overlooked or not considered altogether especially as it relates to the sexual harassment of men.

Sexual Harassment is defined as a sex- based behaviour that is unwelcome or offensive to the recipient. In other words, it is an act towards a person/s that has an unwelcome sexual effect. The Female Students Network estimates that over 70% of female students at institutions of higher learning in Zimbabwe have experience some form of sexual abuse.

Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Mageto who delivered the opening remarks said, “Our women do not feel safe at our universities! This is a shame and a harsh reality that we must address. Our universities have become a playground for some of the most perverse and depraved in our society and we need to do so much more than simply having in place policies on sexual harassment that are so rarely acted upon. We have to educate and provide channels for victims to report what has happened to them. All shame must be removed!”

Prof. Mageto went on to thank the Dean of Students Mr. George Miti and the Campus Life Coordinator Mrs. J Zuweni for assisting in the updating of the university’s existing policy on sexual harassment to take into consideration the dynamics of the problem and develop an instrument that is victim friendly.

Acknowledging that sexual harassment is often entrenched within systems of patriarchy and some aspects of various cultures and traditions that tend to view women as unequal to men, a paradigm shift in attitude and mental perceptions was called for harkening to the fact that policies are not enough and more ground work needs to be done.

Africa University prides itself on providing a friendly, safe and conducive campus environment. The Bishop Alfred Norris Health Centre that is under the purview of the Dean of Students makes it a habit to regularly engage and stimulate both male and female students and staff in matters to do with sexual harassment, sexual /reproductive health and psychosocial support providing a holistic approach to ensure individuals are aware of their rights and know where to go for help.

The Zimbabwe Gender Commission is a constitutional body that ensures that Gender Equality is achieved and promoted. The Commission is established in terms of section 45 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

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