UNESCO Prize rewards work to combat sexual harassment of female students
“I was inspired to go ahead with the network because I really wanted to create a space for women to participate in leadership,” says Evernice Munando, Project Director of the Female Students Network Trust in Zimbabwe which was awarded as one of the 2016 laureates for the first edition of the UNESCO Prize for girls’ and women’s education.
The need was urgent. “Sexual harassment from lecturers was and is a big problem in Zimbabwe,” said Ms. Munando. “We want sexual harassment policy in place in colleges to deal with the fact that female students feel vulnerable.”
Ms Munando, once a student activist herself and elected Vice-President on her college’s all male Students Representative Council, decided to found the network in 2005. Her first action was to undertake a baseline survey exploring the indicators, prevalence and awareness levels of sexual harassment within learning environments, particularly in tertiary education.
Her findings revealed that a staggering 98 per cent of tertiary education female students had experienced some form of sexual harassment often from lecturers and often in exchange for high grades, money, accommodation or even food. Most were too afraid to report the abuse for fear of further victimization.
Female students learn to stand their ground
In addition to the survey she launched a campaign to push the government to enact a sexual harassment policy to curb incidences of sexual harassment at tertiary institutions. The network also advocates to improve the accountability of authorities in creating favourable learning environments for girls and women.
The network, which works alongside the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Ministry of Higher Education, was recognized for its initiative entitled Empowerment of Tertiary Education Female Students through Leadership Development and Mentorship Programmes which supports women with counselling and legal recourse in 36 tertiary institutions across the 10 provinces of Zimbabwe.
“Even now women that raise their voices are seen as crossing a line. Often they need emotional strength and counselling to join student politics,” said Ms Munando. “My goal is to get women to go further than that from college into national politics to influence their nation as teachers, engineers, managers. And to teach them to stand their ground. The network envisions a well-balanced student community and a Zimbabwe where women and girls are prioritized.”
She is seeing the rewards of her efforts with numbers of women on student committees slowly rising and women learning to stand up to male students.
Now the network which has so far managed on a tiny budget will be able to expand its approach thanks to the Prize which consists of an award of USD 50,000.
“This really comes at the time when we are embarking on larger-scale projects and UNESCO recognition counts for a lot. We are working in a very competitive field which can be undermining but this international prize not only helps with credibility but in turn attracts more funding,” she said.
The UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education was established in 2015 and funded by the People’s Republic of China. It rewards outstanding efforts that contribute to the advancement of education for girls and women.
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