© I have had the honour to join 10 Universities in Zimbabwe that convened on May 24, 2019 at the University of Zimbabwe for a dialogue to end sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse in higher learning institutions.
I commend the Embassy of Sweden and Canada to Zimbabwe for supporting such an important dialogue, with the Deans along with SAYWHAT and Katswe Sisterhood to end sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse in universities in Zimbabwe.
This initiative by 10 Universities coming together marks the start of a process to step-up efforts to support the safety and success of all students who will be the leaders and productive citizens of this nation. Sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse is one major impediment for progress.
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 percent 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.
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, lecturers, 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.
Third, 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.
Fourth, institute a fast-track procedures for addressing complaints and initiate a 24/7 helpline for victims, and provide counselling, 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.
Within the United Nations System, there is a zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.
This policy applies to interactions among fellow UN staff, the people the UN staff encounter on official duty as well as in their personal lives.
The policy stems from strong commitment of the UN Secretary Gender and his top leadership and the UN’s commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and overall gender equality in all corners of society.
It doesn’t mean that sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse doesn’t happen in the UN, but there is strong, accountable and transparent mechanisms and systems in place to tackle the menace head-on.
*Parajuli is the UN
Resident Coordinator in Zimbabwe
Ending sexual harassment articulated in Sustainable Development Goals within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls, under SDG 5, for the elimination of all forms of violence against all women, girls and boys, in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
The United Nations’ in support of Zimbabwe to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and fulfil its international obligation on gender equality has been implementing programmes that specifically aim to address the issues of gender inequality including gender-based violence.
In particular, I would like to highlight UN Development System’s Zero Tolerance for GBV 365 programme, supported by Sweden and Ireland, and the new EU-UN programme called the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls.
The Zero Tolerance for Gender Based Violence 365 programme supports eight tertiary institutions, providing information on adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights, services and prevention for all forms of gender-based violence.
The Spotlight Initiative will support the development of a national strategy on sexual harassment, which can then be tailored to the nature of various institutions, including the establishment and strengthening of reporting mechanisms to enable students to confidentially report incidents.
We must appreciate that sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse are serious violations of basic human right, dignity and leaves a life-long scar on the life of the survivor. Equally, it has huge health and economic cost not only to the victim but also to the family, community and the country in general. For instance, the Swedish International Development Agency, estimated that the aggregate cost of GBV in Zimbabwe in 2009, was USD 2 billion.
In this regard, ending sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse – not only in universities but all across society – requires a commitment at all levels of society. We must endeavour to ensure a Zero Tolerance for sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse in all public and private spaces and the tertiary institutions must lead the way.
*Bishow Parajuli is the UN Resident Coordinator in Zimbabwe
Sexual exploitation in varsities unacceptable