Sexual harassment has become so rampant in the workplace and educational institutions – it seems to be a trend. Women have been at the receiving end of sexual harassment for far too long. The narrative is always “she called it on herself”, “she wanted it” or that “she has always been flirty”. But is it the case? For a long time, society has been vocal and participatory in protecting the perpetrator to an extent that survivors start feeling like they called the sexual harassment onto themselves.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cited in United Nations Women Watch defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when: a sexual request is made overtly or covertly on condition for an individual’s employment. Accepting or refusing a sexual advance becomes a reason certain decisions are made when it pertains an individual’s employment. The sexual advance is used as an intimidation tool creating a hostile, unfriendly and uncomfortable working environment. According to the definition sexual harassment can range from actual physical touching to just a sexual remark, catcalling, persistency when asking for a date and inappropriate stares.
Majority of perpetrators do not see the above actions as sexual harassment as the discomfort it brings to victims is trivialized. This causes survivors to be reluctant to report sexual harassment incidents. The reluctance is also caused by fear of victim blaming. Bongiorno, Langbroek, Bain, Ting and Ryan’s (2020) study states that men are more likely than women to believe that women fabricate or exaggerate sexual harassment claims, have ulterior motives for filing a complaint, or are to blame for being sexually harassed due to behaving or dressing provocatively or failing to discourage men’s sexual advances.
According to The Herald, sexual harassment in the education sector is a growing fungus. A national baseline survey conducted by Female Student Network revealed that approximately 74% to 98% of female students face sexual harassment daily. The chief perpetrators are male lecturers, non-academic staff and male students. Lecturers are reported to request sexual favours for a student to pass the course or to get an extra credit hence the term “A Thigh for Marks”. In some situations, a student can fail a course for refusing to comply with said requests.
Society can fight this pandemic if cases are reported and the attitude towards survivors’ changes. The blame game creates a boomerang effect on survivors as not reporting the issue could be construed by the perpetrator that the target wants more. The Zimbabwean government should put clearer and stricter policies on sexual harassment in the workplace and educational institutions.