UNITED Nations (UN) resident coordinator in Zimbabwe, Mr Bishow Parajuli has called on tertiary institutions authorities, victims and survivors of sexual violence in institutions of higher learning to come forward and expose the perpetrators of sexual abuse.
By Michael Gwarisa
Mr Parajuli told an open discussion on sexual violence in tertiary institutions dubbed “Stepping up partnerships to end sexual exploitation in varsities” that the only way universities and colleges could rid themselves of the growing menace of sexual violence is by not protecting them even at law.
“I am alarmed at the statistics given nearly two years ago by Female Students Network Trust to the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development that 74% of female students in tertiary institutions have been subjected to sexual harassment by male staffers at campuses throughout the country.
“This is a cause of high concern needing urgent support and interventions. One case of sexual harassment is one-too-many, and that all academic institutions including universities must ensure that the students have the best environment to succeed academically and support students to become empowered adults who can make an honest living and contribute meaningfully to society. As such, these institutions have the responsibility to ensure safe-spaces for students at all times to reach their academic and professional goals,” said Mr Parajuli.
He further outlined measures which he says could be followed as steps towards ending sexual violence in tertiary institutions.
“I believe the following six measures or strengthening them if they exist in campuses can contribute to end sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse in the Universities in Zimbabwe: First, putting clear policies and laws in place that show zero tolerance to sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse among students and within the university as a whole. Implementation of the policy and consistent communications of the policy among management, staff, and students is critical to prevent and address sexual exploitation.
“Second, educating students, lectures, management and staff on what constitutes sexual harassment, and set up proper reporting procedures on sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse. And, ensure reporting procedures give students and whistle-blowers the assurance that there will be no victimization should they make reports about incidents.”
The Third aspect according to Mr Parjuli is to develop clear guideline of code-of-conduct or golden-rules on the need to maintain professional, non-exploitative relationships between management, staff, lecturers and students at all times. If the guidelines exist disseminate widely online and offline communications platforms of the universities to raise awareness.
He also called for the institution of fast-track procedures for addressing complaints and initiate a 24/7 helpline for victims, and provide counseling, legal, and medical services for victims.
“Fifth, Strong disciplinary measures, including dismissal, must be taken against perpetrators regardless of position or level of influence in campus. And lastly, empower victims and advocates to share their stories and become agents of change as prevention is always better than cure.”
In an interview with HealthTimes, SAYWHAT programs officer, Sendisa Ndlovu said Universities and tertiary institutions should come up with mechanisms to ensure students who face abuse report the cases without fear of being victimized afterwards.
“The first thing that we discovered as an organization is that sexual harassment is happening and we need to address two things. One is by promoting institutions to ensure that they prevent sexual harassment to happen in the first place. To percent sexual harassment from happening, young people need to know what sexual harassment is and they should be able to communicate when harassment has happened to them so that perpetrator can not continue to harass them
“There are cases where people who supposed to deal with cases of sexual harassment don’t have enough capacity to take the case the case through. And you also here students complaining that they would have reported their cases and the perpetrators have not been brought to book and no action has been taken.
“And that actually affects the confidence of other girls, they know they can report cases and still nothing will happen, Actually action will in reverse gear where the person will face retribution or is threatened and that cares all other young people to report,” said Ndlovu.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) country director, Mrs Ester Muia also said her organization is advancing Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services to tertiary institutions and called on policy makers and government to ensure students’ human and sexual reproductive health rights.