Female Students Network Trust (FSNT) joins the rest of the world in celebrating the International Day of the Girl Child under this year’s theme: “Girl Force: Unscripted and Unstoppable”. This day reminds us of nearly 25 years ago, when about 30,000 women and men from nearly 200 countries arrived in Beijing, China for the Fourth World Conference on Women, determined to recognize the rights of women and girls as human rights. The conference culminated in the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: the most comprehensive policy agenda for the empowerment of women.
FSNT is pleased with this year’s theme which ought to celebrate achievements by, with and for girls since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action as it is in tangent with our just ended 14th anniversary theme where we were celebrating 14 years of empowering female students. We are happy that we have managed to achieve numerous and notable feats since we started advocating for gender equality and the upliftment of the girl child although a lot still needs to be done.
However, we are made to celebrate this day with mixed feelings prompted by the recently published video showing high levels of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions of Nigeria and Ghana. This is a wake-up call for the whole of Africa to #StepUp and fight against sexual harassment. We reiterate that sexual harassment is real and its rampant in educational institutions with current statistic reflecting the girl child as the most affected one. We plead with the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Committee (SADC) to start working on crafting policies and chatters that directly deals with sexual harassment.
Locally, we call on our government to enact a law on sexual harassment. We continue to lobby for the adherence of human rights in particular women’s rights and the championing of gender equality.
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UNESCO laureate helps a young woman in Zimbabwe pursue her studies
12 August 2019
Audrey Matambo (FSNT Advocacy Member).
For Audrey Matambo, a 22-year-old university student and young activist from Harare, the support received from 2016 laureate of the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education, the Female Students Network Trust (FSNT), was life changing.
FSNT in partnership with the U.S Embassy of Zimbabwe is implementing a fun run program which seeks to engage youth, raise awareness and change perceptions of young males on gender-based violence (GBV) including Sexual Harassment and domestic violence. The sports envoy program included the Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) alumni who through an Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund, conducted an advocacy campaign called “Conversations with our Fathers” the project deconstructed patriarchal thinking and challenged long held notions of male dominance and entitlement. It also called for fathers and men to play a positive role in creating safe spaces for women and girls. The Sport Envoy and MWF alumni will run across Zimbabwe engaging and motivating male students at tertiary education institutions to change perceptions on sexual harassment, gender-based violence and abuse. Athletics in Zimbabwe is a growing and popular sport with minor and major marathons populating the calendar year and attracting people from all walks of life.
FSNT in partnership with The Zimbabwe National Commission for UNESCO is implementing a #GirlsFirst project under the theme “emancipating rural school girls through fighting gendered discrimination and stereotypes”. The #GirlsFirst program will help Capacitate girls and community leaders on reporting channels in the case of GBV, monitor and evaluate barriers to policy and laws’ effective implementation and proffer solutions to address them. In the long run this project helps establish support systems that encourage girl empowerment. The project is targeting 8 provinces which include Mashonaland East, Manicaland, Masvingo, Matebeland North, Matebeleland South Midlands, Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland West.
A community dialogue on the emancipation of Rural school girls in Zimbabwe was held in Murewa district at Dombodzvuku Secondary school, Rongwe High School in Makoni District and Jenya High School in Chivi district, . The objectives of the dialogue were to raise awareness on the contents of Section 56 of the constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.20) ACT 2013 on Gender and Discrimination and national gender policies and to enhance the skills and capacities of duty bearers to effectively deal with vulnerabilities of girls in the community and establish support systems that encourage girl empowerment.
It was noted that the cultural thread that upheld “Ubuntu” and respect has dissolved thereby leading to the exploitation of the girl child. The dialogue also managed to pick out the effects where girl children are reported to get asleep during lessons due to tiredness as a result of too many household chores that the boy child is not exposed to with worst cases being dropping out of school. It was also noted that at least 18 students drop out of school because of pregnancy in every three years due to early indulgence in sexual activities which comes as a result of the long distance travelled to and from school. The outcome of the dialogue was in form of recommendations raised by the participants with the hope that they might uplift the rural girl child.
In 2011, FSNT received over 30 cases of female students being sexually harassed nationwide with particular reference to NUST(Bulawayo province),Masvingo(Great Zimbabwe University, Mashava Campus),Belvedere Teachers College, Catholic University, Africa University Mutare Poly and Midlands State University which recorded 25 cases between 2012 and 2013.
In 2015 ,FSNT successfully carried out a National Baseline Survey on Sexual Harassment. Only 4 TEI’s out of the 21 sampled isntitution had Sexual Harassment Policies in place with only 1 had a draft. The major perpetrators were found to be male lectures and male non academic staff. Currently FSNT has intensified efforts to advocate for the formulation and effective implementation of Sexual Harassment Policies. FSNT managed to acquire reinstatement of a female student who was suspended at the National University of Science And Technology after she lost three academic years because she was a victim of sexual harassment. The lecturer got fired as a result of FSNT Advocacy.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is unwelcome and uninvited sexual advances, request for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. (def from UN http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/pdf/whatissh.pdf)
Sexual harassment may include but is not limited to:
• Unwelcome commentary about an individual’s body shape, clothing or sexual activity
• Unwelcome jokes, gestures, offensive words or teasing of a sexual nature or based upon gender/sex stereotypes
• Unwanted touching and any other bodily contact such as scratching or patting, grapping around the waist, or interfering with a person’s ability to move
• Staring in a sexually suggestive or offensive manner, or whistling
• Unwanted pressure for sexual favours
• Unwanted pressure for dates
• Unwelcome Hugging, kissing, patting or massaging Unwelcome Behavior is the critical word.
In 2015 between June and August, FSNT carried out a national baseline survey on sexual harassment of female students in the tertiary education institutions of Zimbabwe. The major objective of the survey was to understand the prevalence, nature and landscape of sexual harassment of female students in various institutional geographical location so as to come up with strategic interventions for redress. The survey revealed that out of the 21 sampled institutions, only 4 had sexual harassment policy in place which clearly shows that there are no mechanisms and support system for female students in the sector when it comes to sexual abuse.
FSNT has been recognised for their hard work and continuous efforts in addressing the plight of female students with awards at national and international level.