“I fear that he will deal with me when marking my assignments and in-class tests. I am at university to get my degree.
SEXUAL relations between students and lecturers at universities in Zimbabwe are unchecked and have actually become a social problem that is incontrovertible.
Most of the students are very sexually active and when they are desperate for fees or accommodation, some of them end up in relationships of convenience with older men including their lecturers. And in many such relationships, they cannot negotiate safe sex.
Findings from a baseline survey conducted in 2015 by the Female Student Network Trust, reveal that 98 percent of female students reported they had encountered sexual harassment, mostly from male lecturers and that there is under-reporting of sexual harassment cases in tertiary institutions.
A 1994 research, “Sexual harassment in Institutions of Higher Learning”, carried out by Professor Fred Zindi, unearthed that sexual harassment is rife in institutions of higher learning and that most of it is perpetrated by men.
In the Zimbabwean context, most known cases of sexual harassment at Institutions of higher learning are perpetrated by male lecturers and this has something to do with culture which hazards that males should initiate the first move when they desire to form a relationship with females.
A significant number of people in authority such as lecturers, “trainers” and doctors refuse to accept their moral responsibility but instead seek to exploit the susceptibility of those under them.
Sexual harassment is defined by law and includes requests for sexual favours, sexual advances or other sexual conduct when firstly submission is either explicitly or implicitly a condition affecting academic or employment decisions; secondly the behaviour is sufficiently severe or pervasive as to create an intimidating, hostile or repugnant environment; or thirdly, the behaviour persists despite objection by the person to whom the conduct is directed.
The institutions should consider such behaviour, whether physical or verbal, to be a breach of its standards of conduct and will seek to prevent such incidents and take corrective action when sexual harassment occurs https://sapac.umich.edu/article/63 (November 2016).
Evidence from interviews with several students enrolled at institutions of higher learning reveals that quite a significant number of students are in affairs with lecturers and a lot as well have been sexually harassed.
Female students noted that they are usually not ready to report lecturers who ask for sexual favours for fear of victimization. The issue of power differentials comes into play in this case.
Currently, Zimbabwe is grappling with the high prevalence of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in universities and uncontrolled widespread cases of sexual assault could be a major contributing factor.
This writer noted that quite a number of female students at universities have an appalling slapdash knowledge of the difference between sexual harassment and a decent proposal and many seem to be powerless when a proposal has been made.
A student who shared her experience with this writer intimated that it was difficult to say no to the male lecturer.
“I fear that he will deal with me when marking my assignments and in-class tests. I am at university to get my degree.”
Despite the challenge of sexual harassment by male lecturers and the temptation to get into sexual affairs with lecturers, some female students indicated that they were safe.
A final year student at one of the local universities noted that it is important to know one’s limits and to play it safe, as well as avoiding experimenting.
“The purpose of coming to college is to attain a degree not several sexual encounters with lecturers. I have so far not had any challenges with all of my male lecturers, “she explained.
Other students indicated that they know the lecturers who make sexual advances towards female students and those who make nasty sexual comments and they strive to avoid them but sadly others cannot just escape the hook. Lecturers tend to avoid too many affairs in the same class and this saves others
However, not all male lecturers are guilty of this improper behaviour. Some actually refuse to give their personal contacts to students preferring only to deal with their class representatives
Sexual harassment has several effects on the students and these include loss of interest in studies, low self-esteem, stress, trauma and development of phobia for men, becoming the subject of gossip and speculations at the campus.
There are emotional effects – recent studies have shown that female victims of sexual harassment become vulnerable and tend to experience intense anger towards their perpetrators or all males surrounding them – and STIs, physical injuries and unplanned motherhood.
Given the growing concern for the safety of female students at universities, authorities of the higher and tertiary education sector should ensure that all universities have a Sexual Harassment policy in place.
Sexual harassment at institutions of higher learning should be criminalized. This would be a panacea to the practice.
At every institution of higher learning, there should be billboards warning students of the dangers of engaging in unsafe sex and getting into affairs with lecturers.
Female students should be urged to report all forms of sexual assault by lecturers>chaosafrica