Tertiary institutions urged to implement sexual harassment policies

By Precious Moyo

THE Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) has called upon universities to come up with policies that specifically address sexual harassment amid reports of an increase in sexual abuse cases involving students.

ZGC chairperson Mrs Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe said only the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) currently has a sexual harassment policy.

“Sexual harassment is a real issue at universities and it is on the increase, but the problem is that these institutions do not have policies to address the problem. As of now only UZ has a policy while other universities have not adopted any. We call upon these institutions to draft policies so that students have a constitution that protects them,” she said.

Mrs Mukahanana-Sangarwe could not provide the exact statistics on the number of sexual harassment cases the commission had dealt with saying most students do not report these cases.

The ZGC chairperson said the policy should make it clear on how victims are protected after perpetrators are reported, investigated and or convicted.

She said the commission will conduct public lecturers in four universities before extending to other tertiary institutions.

“We are going to hold public lectures at universities and conscientise students and lecturers on how to deal with such sexual harassment. For our first phase we will engage the University of Zimbabwe(UZ),National University of Science and Technology(NUST),Midlands State University(MSU) and Africa University(AU),”she said.

Mrs Mukahanana-Sangarwe said there is a gap in the country’s constitution as there is no specific law which stipulates the conviction of sexual harassment perpetrators.

“In such a case universities should not be reluctant in addressing sexual harassment because it’s a real issue affecting students. Universities should cover this gap,” she said.

Meanwhile, non-governmental organisations have raised concern over the growing trend of sexual harassment of women in the workplace.

Though no national study has been carried to determine its prevalence in Zimbabwe, recent research shows that 31 percent of women said they have been victims of the scourge.

According to the Research and Advocacy Unit, out of 132 employees who were interviewed and participated in the survey, 61 percent were female.

About 31 percent of the women indicated that they had been victims of sexual harassment or had witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace. Out of the individuals who indicated that they had been victims of sexual harassment, only 34 percent had reported these cases.

Another study, entitled ‘Sexual Harassment in Zimbabwe workplaces’ revealed that 48 percent of the respondents had witnessed a colleague being sexually harassed at their workplace while about 43 percent of the participants were not aware if there was a policy statement on sexual harassment at their workplaces.

Experts define sexual harassment as a conduct that may affect especially women in the workplace and comprises a range of behavior from verbal teasing to conduct that is criminal, for example criminal assault.