Zimbabwe: Zero Tolerance to Sexual Harassment in University and Polytechnics in Bulawayo

Date: August 30, 2019
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Gender Based Violence especially sexual harassment is a topic which people in Zimbabwe in most cases prefer not to discuss especially the youth who are at colleges and those that have recently been employed when violated. GBV yet is a lifetime problem which leads to a person either committing suicide, going into depression or having mental health problems. In 2018 and 2019 the project of making students aware of sexual harassment before coming on attachment was taken to the Bulawayo Polytechnic and in 2019 the Project moved to both the Bulawayo Polytechnic and Lupane State University.

Zimbabwe is a patriarchal country and most of the time women are viewed as sex objects. Orientation of a girl children is such that they should be submissive to their male counterparts be it partners, spouses, brothers and most of them take that socialisation to the work environment and do not realise how dangerous it is not to voice out against their male counterparts . Harassment is carried out by the elderly men of the community now known as “blessers”.

The ultimate goal is to get zero percent Gender Based Violence in the workplace by catching the students young at the colleges and universities. The strategy of using colleges and not work environment makes the matter to of Gender based violence to be taken seriously in all sectors, hence leads to elimination of the vice by targeting lecturers as well as they are potential perpetrators. When sexual harassment awareness is introduced in colleges it will be plucked at source, through empowerment of students. The elimination of sexual harassment will lead to the prevention of sexually transmitted infections including H.I.V

Key Actions

Bulawayo City Council recruits students on attachment twice a year that is in January and midyear July and every intake has an induction seminar where sexual harassment awareness is done. Correspondingly the institutions do their seminar and workshops bi-annually where they request the City of Bulawayo to come and impart the knowledge and the skills on how to deal with Sexual Harassment in college as well as in the workplace. The Human Capital Officer from the City of Bulawayo is invited to the Bulawayo Polytechnic and Lupane State University to conduct Seminars and workshops in a student familiar environment which is in their areas of learning so as to inform the youth on the measures that need to be taken to achieve the main goal, that is zero percent Gender Based Violence. The seminars have high level buy in at both the college and university in that at the University in that the Dean of faculty opens the session and at the Polytechnic the Principal also opens the sessions, by so doing the students realize that the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace is very grave and that is why the institutions are addressing them. The presentations were done at the lecture theatre at both the Polytechnic and University. The Attendance ranged from one hundred and eighty nine females and thirty eight males. In attendance were the departmental heads and the lecturers.


The University and Polytechnic administration in the Faculty of Commerce were involved in setting up the dates and venues. The City of Bulawayo was instrumental in delivering the awareness because it is a Centres of Excellence (C.O.E) For Gender Mainstreaming for Local Government. Under the C.O.E. Program Bulawayo City Council has an Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Action Plan which includes tackling issues to do with gender based violence and Sexually Transmitted Infections and H.I.V. infections . The COE Program is the Gender Mainstreaming program of choice by the Ministry of Local Government.

The Ministry of Women Affairs Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development championed the gender based violence prevention agenda. The Zimbabwe Women Resource Centre and Network who provided funding in the training session for the facilitators on advocacy. The National Aids Council collaborates with the City of Bulawayo and other Partners in addressing the spread of H.I.V. as there is a close link between GBV and the spread of HIV. The Gender equality advocates have also been trained to empower communities to deal with Gender based violence.


The strategy employed included communication with the institutions and partners provided with Information Education and Communication material used during the sessions which included Population Services International, Women Coalition of Zimbabwe and Gender links. They also act as referral centres for the students in case they need more assistance after the sessions. The Workshops would not have been successful without the high level buy-in from the Dean of Faculty and Principal of Colleges. The availability of the lecturers and students in one room demystify the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace/college. Power point presentations and mass lectures so as to get as many people as possible and LinkedIn was used as a social medial platform, as well as Facebook and Whatsapp.


Initially at project inception there was no high level buy-in from the Deans of faculties of Commerce, Chairpersons as well as lecturers and communication was difficult. They were practically out of reach.

Therefore communication with the Lupane State University was the major challenge, which was overcome when I was appointed to be a member of the Lupane State University Faculty of Commerce Advisory Board. The appointment made it easier for me to communicate with the University and request for time to present.

It was also difficult to break through Bulawayo Polytechnic Bureaucratic process however with continuous engagement and dialogue with the Head of Commerce Department, made it easier in the long run and dates and time where allocated for the delivery of sessions. The Socio-economic environment resulting in shortages made fuel not readily available when required to visit the institutions but Bulawayo City Council provided transport and it was easy to reach the two Universities.

As an advocate of prevention of Gender Based Violence especially sexual harassment in the workplace I faced a challenge with accessing promotional material fliers, t-shirts, bags, hats and caps. These would be inscribed with the relevant messages according to the theme of the day. However progress is being made to overcome these challenges through budgetary provisions and seeking partnerships with civil society organizations and business community.

Time allocation and slot given were initially 30 minutes but with the first presentation and after surpassing the college expectations I was then given a three hour slot to speak about sexual harassment in the workplace. This enhanced further explanations on the topic and there was even a question and answer session for the students yet initially it was only 30 minutes which did not give for questions and answers to enhance understanding of the concept.

Immediate results and next steps

There has been a change in attitude and mind-set as most of the things presented in the seminar the students were not aware that it was sexual harassment elements for example stalking, whistling, forced dates and types the types of sexual harassment such as that is between the supervisor and the student or student to student. Awareness raising though champions who have learnt and wanted to further raise it to others in the community. The workshops has also created agency in that they will be able to stand up on their own.

Long term Impact

There are now sexual harassment champions or ambassadors at the institutions of higher learning, Universities and Polytechnics who have said they will spread the message around to fellow youths, even those who have not enrolled in their respective departments. The College and Universities have gender Champion Lecturers since they have buy-in already of the programme up to the Dean of Faculty and Head of Departments. Sexual Harassment will be minimized at the University and Polytechnic since the lectures of the faculties and departments also attended the Seminar. It was not only students but their lecturers, head of departments and principals in the same room. The sharing of sexual harassment information was not selective as it was presented in a hall, what was shared to the students was also shared to the lecturers.

Learning and how this will be applied

The project showed that there was a lot of information gap on the subject of sexual harassment in the workplace and that it was a form of gender based violence. During the question and answer sessions and contribution time most participants had not realized that during the reporting of sexual harassment there was also need to avoid dangerous talk which usually supported the perpetrators such as “he was just playing do not take him seriously”. I have also learnt that there was need to take the project to other faculties of the university and departments of the institutions of higher learning including to the National University of Science and Technology where the project had not been carried to. There was so much information gap on the subject of Sexual harassment and it being form of gender based violence, it had been taken to be a taboo subject. I also learnt that dialogue and engagement will open doors that one presumes closed. I have also learnt that there was need to document all the processes every step of the way. There is also need to conduct an impact evaluation after every three years.

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