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Understanding sexual harassment
Jephiter Tsamwi
November 01, 2012

Zimbabwe has been internationally recognised as a nation with world class quality education system. And with the continued government and stakeholder intervention, the country continues to advance in terms of service delivery and access to education for.

However, it is apparently clear that with the current economic challenges that have seen the government failing to provide adequate support especially for the tertiary institutions, students are experiencing one of the toughest times in their education. While economic challenges have always been regarded as the major hindrance to the full access to education, there appears to be the other side of it that everyone seems to be very unaware of.

Recently, Students And Youths Working on Reproductive Health Action Team (SAYWHAT), a student membership-based organization whose thrust is to address the sexual and reproductive health challenges of students in Zimbabwe's tertiary undertook an assessment to find out the real challenges that are currently being faced by students in some colleges in Harare and surprisingly, sexual harassment top the list. This was very interesting to me in as much as it was a very disturbing discovery considering that this area seem to be getting very minimum attention from the responsible authorities.

But speaking to the students themselves, it is noticeable that at times they do harass each other unknowingly. This raised my enthusiasm as well to find out what really constitute sexual harassment and do we really recognise this as a challenge in the country not only within academic institutions but even at workplaces and in the entire society in general Perhaps one of the first person to carry out a study on sexual harassment was a researcher called Fred Zindi, back in 19194 where he carried out a survey of 16 tertiary institutions in the country to asses and analyse if sexual harassment was really a problem in tertiary institutions His findings reported that actually more than 95 percent of the students in his study sample acknowledged the existence of sexual harassment in all its manifestations: lecturers to students, students to lecturers or students to students.

Today, another study by Almon Shumba, "Sexual Harassment of College Students by Lecturers in Zimbabwe," still show wide evidence of the existence of this challenge. This brings to question on what exactly are the responsible ministries or even college authorities themselves doing to address this challenge which accordingly since 1994 is still persisting in our nation's institutions. Perhaps there is a need to understand why sexual harassment needs to be addressed as an urgent issue; the effects are not far to seek as much as they are extremely damaging to the wellbeing of the victim. Sexual harassment can result in serious psychological problems such as fear, anger, depression, distress, stress, anxiety, confusion, irritability, loss of self-esteem, feelings of humiliation, helplessness, vulnerability, worry and alienation. But what really is sexual harassment? The Zimbabwe Labour Relations amendment Act defines sexual harassment in its section 8(h) as: "Unwelcome sexually determined behaviour towards any employee, whether verbal or otherwise, such as making physical contact or advances, sexually coloured remarks or displaying pornographic materials in the workplace." The Zimbabwean law does indeed recognise sexual harassment as an offense but perhaps the interpretation of the law is what still needs further exploration. Recognising the possibility of sexual harassment at the workplaces, sexual harassment seem to be more prevalent in tertiary institutions than it is in the workplaces. The levels of vulnerability are much higher to the college students due to a number of pressures that makes the student, mainly the female student fall victim to the challenge so easily. In her report "The Price of Education: Sexual Abuse and HIV/AIDS at Zimbabwe Universities" sometime in 2011, journalist Chumile Jamela noted that "Lecturers and other well-to-do men often target them for what they see as cheap sex . . . .. With colleges charging between $400 USD and $800 USD per semester, in a country where some employees go for months without salaries, some students actually solicit sex. They flirt and make advances on their lecturers in order to afford fees, accommodation, toiletries, and food, effectively creating an unending cycle of sexual abuse. Females are cynically seen as having an advantage over male students, as they can use sex - voluntarily or by force - to get their degrees and diplomas." While there is no tangible evidence that this writer can put across here to confirm or deny the allegations by Chumile, it is pretty much difficult to completely deny the fact that there is a problems somehow within the colleges about this issue. The UN organisation called Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment, or submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. In Zimbabwe, it is however refreshing to note that there are currently tertiary institutions that have already established some sexual harassment policies as a measure to reduce the cases of sexual harassment. Part of the findings by all the researches focussed on this area which this writer came across categorically stated the absence of sexual harassment policies as a major factor leading to the persistence of sexual harassment in colleges.

Policies can help create guiding principles, monitoring and reporting systems that assist in dealing with the issues. In as much as there are notably chapters in the various college acts that address gender issues, sexual harassment seem to be forgotten. Bindura University of Science Education and Africa University remains the only two tertiary institutions with well-defined sexual harassment policies. While other universities have tried to indirectly address the issues to do with that by ensuring compulsory Gender modules for all students, the effectiveness of the strategies are yet to be recorded.

The EEOC notes that sexual harassment includes many things and that can be either verbal, nonverbal or physical harassment. Verbal harassment may include, referring to an adult as a girl, hunk, doll, babe, or honey; whistling at someone, cat calls; making sexual comments about a person's body; making sexual comments or innuendos; turning work discussions to sexual topics; telling sexual jokes or stories; asking about sexual fantasies, preferences, or history; asking personal questions about social or sexual life; making kissing sounds, howling, and smacking lips; making sexual comments about a person's clothing, anatomy, or looks; repeatedly asking out a person who is not interested; telling lies or spreading rumours about a person's personal sex life.

Non-verbal would include things like looking a person up and down (Elevator eyes), staring at someone or blocking a person's path while.

Considering the above noted components, it is apparently clear that as a society we are guilty of committing sexual harassment regularly if not on daily basis. This writer can confidently argue that one way or the other, we have made people feel uncomfortable through any of the above, or actually were at some point victims of sexual harassment. The truth of the matter is that for the majority of the people in the society, students included, they have faced sexual harassment in different ways and in different places.

Physical harassment on the other hand includes giving a massage around the neck or shoulders; touching the person's clothing, hair, or body; hugging, kissing, patting, or stroking; touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person and standing close or brushing up against another person. If any of the above is done without the consent of the other partner, then it can constitute sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is thus rampant in the societies we live and the extreme cases seem to be witnessed daily at workplaces or in tertiary institutions. I will sum up this argument by a view from Zindi in his research on sexual harassment in tertiary institutions in Zimbabwe, he said, "There is no doubt that a lot of women, even though they are still under-reporting it, they experience sexual harassment . . . .The relationship between a supervisor and a trainee (in tertiary institutions) parallels with that between a therapist and a patient. There is power differential. The doctor-patient issue raises sexuality issues quite frequently and because of the doctor's or therapist's more powerful position, it is he who should exercise self-control rather than exploiting the vulnerability of the patient. Similarly lecturers, employers or supervisors, it would seem, should follow their own code of ethics by recognizing the vulnerability of people under them and avoiding situations of eroticized transferences. Yet a significant number of them seem reluctant to identify these dynamics and pretend that their actions are guided by natural impulses. Consequently, they refuse to accept their moral responsibility in such matters."

To create a gender just society, free from sexual harassment cases, it starts with every respective individual. Professionalism on the part of seniors, bosses, lectures and any other person occupying superior positions, would definitely make the society better. Sexual harassment is an offense, and the more we strive to put an end to it, the more we better or society.

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