by Tam’sanqa Mhepoh | @ndebeleshona | Opinion
‘Sexually transmitted grades‘, ‘a thigh for a mark’, ‘transaction relationships’ and ‘blessers.’These terms are synonymous with an ‘underground’ culture prevailing in Zimbabwean colleges nowadays.
While this culture is not anything new, these trending terms tell a new story altogether.
The story is that; only lip service has been paid to an existing problem.
News media reveal that HIV prevalence among young women in colleges has risen just as much as sexual abuse. Government must formulate a standard HIV and Sexual Harassment policy to manage a growing problem in tertiary institutions.
I doubt that the rise in sexual harassment cases to 78 percent is isolated from the rise in HIV prevalence to 4.1 percent in young women aged 15-24. It cannot be a coincidence for both to occur simultaneously.
A 2015 UNAIDS Global Aids Report cited that sexual intercourse with older men exposes this age group to partners who are more likely to be HIV positive and also hold power in the relationship.
Clearly, there is no doubt that young women are vulnerable to Sexually Transmitted Infections and Sexual Harassment whilst they are in college.
It is therefore imperative that the government, through the Ministry of Higher Education formulates a policy that will discourage students from dating individuals their who hold positions of authority in institutions.
Since universities are adult learning institutions, I acknowledge that genuinely consensual relations do develop between students and staff.
However, there is no doubt that there are also predatory staff members harassing or exploiting students and even younger or more junior colleagues.
According to the Female Students Network Survey, about 78 percent of students revealed that they had been offered handsome marks in return for sexual intercourse by their lectures.
Sadly, most students do not realize such offers as sexual harassment, and sometimes they give in, leading to an array of physical, psychological and emotional problems.
Even though tertiary institutions are semi-autonomous, it is the Ministry’s responsibility to lead student affairs departments in coming up with policies to protect students.
Whilst appreciating that every institution is unique in culture, the Ministry of Higher Education should, in consultation with civil society and all tertiary institutions in Zimbabwe, come with standard procedures for handling,reporting cases and supporting victims of abuse.
Researchers at the African Gender Institute in 2006 defined the meaning of ‘policy implementation’ as people’s awareness and understanding of the policy.
Such is achieved through analysis of reported cases, and through people’s “levels of satisfaction” with the policy – their perceptions on how it contributed to a better working or academic climate.
A standard policy would help to ensure uniformity in managing Sexual Harassment cases across the country.
It would also make the implementation of the Sexual Harassment and HIV prevention policy more effective. In turn Zimbabwe would be poised to achieve the gender equality target by 2030.
Students who purposefully engage in romantic encounters with university staff say they are driven by poverty.
“Sex is just a small price to pay for all the material things I get out of this relationship,” said Lisa Mangena(not her real name), a senior student at a local university.
Nevertheless, is it ethical behavior for a lecturer to bed his student? Your guess is as good as mine!