A recent study by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has revealed that there is still low uptake of condoms and HIV testing services among University Students in Zimbabwe despite the students being highly informed about the risks of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
By Michael Gwarisa
The report indicates that even though there is no hard data on HIV prevalence in tertiary institutions, the occurrence could be higher than that in the general population as a result of low condom use in Universities coupled with poor uptake of HIV testing and counselling.
“Given the fact that students responding to our survey were generally sexually active and had frequent sexual relations, a worrying trend emerged regarding lack of condom use by both male and female students; 66% of female respondents and 47% of male respondents reported that they had not used a condom the first time that they had sex.
“Condom use seems generally very irregular. Only 26% of men and 14% of women reported always using a condom when they had sex, while 11% of men and 20% of women never use a condom. This gender gap in condom usage may be explained by the gender norms surrounding sexual relationships,” said the study.
The report also revealed that young women indicated that they do not want to carry condoms and suggest using them in case they are labelled as promiscuous.
“A total of 29% of women students reported that they rarely or never used condoms, indicating a real need to target these young women with appropriate education and sensitization, and also to work on transforming gender norms in both young men and young women so that the use of condoms is not seen as a sign of promiscuity or bad behaviour, but as normal and positive behaviour to protect against STIs including HIV, and unwanted pregnancies.
“Another reason for the low condom use may be the belief among students that they are not at risk of HIV. In our online survey, a very high number of students responded that they did not believe they would be infected with HIV in the future. In fact, a total of 92% of female students and 91% of male students responded that they would probably or definitely not become infected with HIV in the future. These attitudes demonstrate a major misunderstanding of the risks of being infected with HIV and indicate the need for better education and sensitization on this subject.”
The report also pointed out that there is rampart frequent occurrence of transactional sexual relationships between female students and older men. The Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) study of 2007 found that all respondents concurred that the female students’ way of generating additional income for their education was to become professional prostitutes or to have multiple boyfriends with sufficient income to meet their needs.
“The report states that “elder men, most of them married, now treat tertiary colleges and universities as hunting
grounds for ready partners each time they crave for loose sexual gratification” (ZINASU, 2007: 23).
“In addition, Masvawure (2011) points to the organization of transactional sexual relationships through pimps – older male students who arrange transactional sexual relationships between female students and richer older men, commonly called “big dhara”. The university students involved in this study maintained that pimp-mediated transactional sexual relationships had become widespread on campus, indicating that there is an organized network for this type of sexual relationship.”
Meanwhile, the study also gathered that there was glaring gaps in access to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) among university students.
“The gaps in contraception use among young female students also lead to high rates of abortions. As abortion is only legal in very limited circumstances in Zimbabwe – when pregnancy is a result of rape – most abortions are done illegally, and there are thus no reliable statistics on abortion rates.
“Similarly, staff from the university clinics interviewed for the study said that they did not see many students who came to them because they were pregnant, but this is because these young women know that the clinic will not be able to help them to obtain abortions.”
One report estimates that in 2014, 78% of university students who became pregnant resorted to abortion, and key informants for our study suggested that illegal abortions are very common among students in HTEIs, although the evidence remains anecdotal because of the legal issues and stigma involved.