Zimbabwe students fighting GBV on campus
When female students at tertiary colleges and universities in Zimbabwe call for action against gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual harassment (SH) on campus, they need up-to-date statistics to back up their claims that this is a widespread problem.
Research undertaken by the Female Students Network Trust (FSNT) in Zimbabwe in 2015 presents a clear picture of the nature and extent of GBV and SH that students endure, and make recommendations for protecting survivors and holding perpetrators and authorities accountable for the abuse.
FSNT’s baseline study, conducted in universities, polytechnics and teachers’ colleges, with support from the Czech Embassy and the Students and Academics International Help Fund, covered ten tertiary institutions and included 3425 students and staff. It confirmed the students’ claims that GBV and SH were ‘rampant’ on campus, particularly sexual harassment of female students by male lecturers, fellow male students and non-academic male employees.
Key findings from the research include:
- Of the 2114 female students who participated through the questionnaire, 94% reported having encountered SH, compared to 3% of the 672 male students;
- Of the 1987 female students who had encountered SH:
- 16% of female students said they had been raped by male students and 5% had been raped by male lecturers and non-academic staff;
- 13% of female students reported date rape in relationships with older men (lecturers and non-academic staff) and 46% in relationships with male students;
- 16% reported having been forced into unprotected sex in sexual encounters with lecturers; 10% in sexual encounters with non-academic staff and 43% with male students;
- 32% of female students reported having been coerced into drinking alcohol or injecting drugs by older men (lecturers and non-academic staff) during date outings and thereafter sexual assaulted. 48% of female students reported the same during date outings with male students;
- 64% of male students said they had given money or gifts in exchange for sex in the last year and 42% of female students reported that they had received money or gifts in exchange for sex in the last year. (In focus group discussions, men said that having ‘invested’ in female students they would resort to violence if their partners refused to have sex with them or had sex with someone else);
- 85% of respondents reported knowing female students who were once forced by campus-men to abort an unintended pregnancy;
- 74% of female students encountered offers of ‘favours’ (good grades/marks, extra academic help and study aids) by lecturers and 83% encountered offers of ‘favours’ (food, accommodation, transport and money) by non-academic staff and students, all in exchange for sex or sexual relationships;
- 67% experienced unwanted physical contact (touching, patting and hugging) by lecturers, non-academic staff and students;
- 93% experienced inappropriate remarks about their gender and sexuality (including sarcastic criticism of their weight, body parts such as breasts and buttocks, skin complexion, hairdo, cosmetics, dressing) by mostly male students;
- 91% encountered wolf whistling – and of the 672 male students who completed the questionnaire, 90% reported having wolf whistled at a female student;
- 79% of female students reported being intentionally excluded from meetings and processes because they were being held at gender insensitive environments and times.
The vast majority (94%) of female students who experienced GBV or SH said that they would not report to the authorities. Most (63.5%) said they had disclosed to someone (family member, friend, intimate partner, room mate, fellow church member).
The main reason given for not reporting was not knowing how to do so. However, female students also reported that campus security were more concerned about preventing student unrest that dealing with issues of GBV and SH.
Reporting to intimate partners seldom resulted in cases being taken up through the college/university system and would often result in physical gang fights between involved males. Female students said that being identified as victims of GBV and SH through reporting would jeopardise their current and future intimate relations and social image, and subject them to campus gossip and further male student bullying.
Responses to questions about the reasons for GBV and SH reflect an entrenched patriarchal culture, with fixed, unequal gender norms and normalised victim-blaming. Both female and male students said wolf-whistling was due to young women wearing tight or revealing clothing. The males said they were less likely to wolf-whistle at students who dressed ‘decently’. The main reason given for unwanted physical contact by both male and female respondents was that female students had ‘unknowingly sent a wrong message’ to offenders, who were generally people they knew.
The study found that ‘female students fail to live their college lives fully making unreasonable behavioral and life style adjustments fully because of fear of SH in their living and learning environments’.
However, it seemed this strategy would be unlikely to protect them since male students reported intense pressure – from both male and female lecturers – to outperform female students, to show contempt, competition and indifference towards female students, and to call a male who did not perform ‘woman’. Female students who outperformed males would be called tom-boys or labelled as having ‘balls’. Some female students would behave in a submissive way to avoid this.
Both male and female students during FGDs said that male lecturers viewed sex with female students as part of their supplementary job benefits just like medical aid in the context of low and often delayed salaries. Male lecturers in interviews denied this though they said it was part of beer talk. A high proportion of male lecturers said female students ‘enticed them’ into relationships.
The report notes that there have been some efforts by the Zimbabwe government to demonstrate its commitment to eradicating GBV and SH Government – for example the creation of a separate ministry responsible for gender and women affairs, which has put in place a national GBV strategy.
FSNT has used the findings of the study to formulate a Sexual Harassment Monitoring Mechanism (SHMM) for tertiary institutions and to provide recommendations for improving accountability of authorities on GBV. FSNT
Director Evernice Munando says the Trust has been advocating and lobbying strongly for SH policy formulation and effective implementation, engaging Zimbabwe’s parliamentary portfolio committees on Gender and Education to expedite the processes. Munando reported in April 2016: “Some universities and colleges are responding well [and] Midlands State University (MSU) has recently made its policy.”
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