Uproar over Zim Gender Commission's call for dress codes at tertiary institutions

By Correspondent

THE Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) has courted controversy on social media after an official from the body stated that it was mooting a Dress Code Policy for students as tertiary institutions.

Addressing the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) staff and students during a public lecture on sexual harassment yesterday, ZGC Legal and Investigations Manager Ms Delis Mazambani is said to have stated that there was a need to “..make life easier for the lecturer” through the university having a dress code policy.

While noting that it was the responsibility of the person in authority to control a situation of sexual misconduct, Mazambani went on to compare university campus life with the Judicial system policies which stipulate how court visitors should dress. 

“During the weekend, the students can then wear whatever they want but when attending lectures, they need to be guided on how to dress and this makes it easier for lecturers to pinpoint that according to the university’s policy you are not dressed appropriately,” said Mazambane. 

However dozens of people took to Twitter and Facebook expressing shock that a body that had been set up to correct such patriarchal and stereotypical views about women and how they are violated based on objectification and sexualisation of their bodies and choices was actually validating the very sentiments it was set up to counter.

“We expect more from commissions. They should be people who understand the difference and changes in times. It's basically like saying Varsity students should wear uniforms,”wrote one twitter user, who also went on to state, “They should demonstrate deeper understanding of the following terms, 'rape'; 'consent; and not suggest such vile statements acting and posing like the rapists' advocates.”

Similar comments were shared on Facebook with one user writing ”At other universities you don’t find this nonsense of sexual harassment of students because it’s the lecturers who are policed by the institution and the guidelines they have to adhere to constrain THEIR conduct not to police and constrain students. A lecturer can be PROFESSIONAL and they must be professional at all times in their interactions with students. Yikuzenzisa lokho okokuthiwa abenelisi ukuzibamba (its naive to say they cannot control themselves). Absolute rubbish. If they knew it’d cost them their jobs, they’d never even dare. It’s a failure by institutions to place mechanisms that protect students and that deter misconduct on the part of staff.”

Another stated, “Did these people watch the 'Sex for Grades' documentary? Do they realise that the onus not to abuse someone lies with the person with the power to do so? Hawu. No man. Universities are space for young people to freely express and question and critique. Look at what people at SA universities did with #FeesMustFall. And we are over here policing dress sense.”

The commission did however find sympathisers with one users writing “I have seen first hand some extremely deliberate provocative dress code by University students with the intention to cause sexual harm to the onlooker...I myself, have been offended being female, what more a male whose offense speaks through their body parts? There are some body parts that cannot be governed or chastised not to react ...Kwenzweni pho (what must be done)?”

This debate rages in the midst of growing outcries over increased cases of sexual harassment and sexual abuse in workspaces and at universities in Zimbabwe in the absence of policies to handle such violations. 

The GCZ is currently on a mission to introduce policies to curb these violations through lobbying paliarment to take actions by enacting national anti-sexual harassment laws and policies.