Every year, thousands of migrants risk their lives on a treacherous journey from their countries to Zimbabwe in search of educational opportunities at various tertiary institutions around the country.
Despite Zimbabweans being known for their warm reception to foreigners, the story is different for female students who are reportedly subjected to all forms of harassment including sexual.
Female Student Trust, Executive Director, Evernice Munando noted that sexual harassment is a common phenomenon globally especially among female students.
Mary (not her real name), an Equatorial Guinea female student who came to Zimbabwe in 2015 to pursue her tertiary education has had a difficult time with lecturers at her institution. She reckons that language barrier was at first her biggest obstacle as she failed to assert herself resulting in being subjected to abuse by her lecturers, other male students and the general public especially in the Central Business District.
“I came to Zimbabwe in 2015 and never thought I would go through such horrendous experiences, I had previously heard glorious stories of how Zimbabweans are warm and good people, but my own experience tells a different story.
“From the beginning, Zimbabwean men didn’t treat me fairly as a foreigner.
“It started when l arrived at Harare Polytechnic as a student, I wasn’t even able to speak a single English word, so most men would tease me in shona or english but i never got to understand it, It pissed me off because after they say something, they would burst into laughter while I stood there frozen.
” One of the most disturbing cases was when one of my lecturers offered me extra lessons for English language, It appeared like a noble gesture but it turned out the other way.
“When l got into his office, l found condoms on his table but l wasn’t able to ask, he then gave me a French movie translated to English and he told me to go and watch, so that l will be able to understand.
“When l was about to go, he grabbed my hand and kissed me, l ran out of his office, l did not tell this to anyone because i felt ashamed.
“Another problem came when l was looking for industrial attachment, men offered me all sorts of promises If I fall for them. To be frank, l fell in love with three men in the hope of getting a place for industrial attachment,” said Mary.
Other foreign students cited corruption as another problem they are facing in Zimbabwe especially from lecturers who demand them to pay in cash or kind for their course work to be considered.
“Being poor is a crime in Zimbabwe you can’t succeed in anything without paying for it, sometimes lecturers ask for payment from us for them to give us higher marks and considering that we always want to return to our home countries,sometimes we end up giving in to their demands as they willfully fail you,” said Leoma, another foreign student from Mozambique.
Meanwhile Secretary of labor and Social welfare, Ngoni Masoka called for a change of attitude towards migrants and refugees saying people need to move away from attitudes of defensiveness, fear and intolerance.
“It is time that we deploy our efforts in changing the migration narrative. We need to see migrants as our brothers and sisters in search of a better life, far away from poverty, hunger and the unjust distribution of the planet’s resources.
“A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness, fear and intolerance,” said Masoka.
International Organization for Migration Chief of Mission Ms. Lily Sanya said challenges and difficulties of international migration require enhanced cooperation and collective action among countries.
“Migration draws increasing attention in the world nowadays.
“Mixed with elements of unforeseeability, emergency, and complexity, the challenges and difficulties of international migration require enhanced cooperation and collective action among countries and regions to maximize the positive impacts of migration while lessening the adverse impact.
“The United Nations is actively playing a catalyst role in this area, with the aim of creating more dialogues and interactions within countries and regions, as well as propelling experience exchange and collaboration opportunities,” said Sanya.
According to Human Rights Watch, migrants are facing violations including denied access to fundamental rights such as the right to education, work and health which is discriminatory especially to international female students.
UNESCO Good Policy and Practice in HIV & AIDS and education booklet, states that schools are not always aware of national policies established by education ministries.
There is often a gap between policy and practice, with good intentions hindered by lack of policies, failure to communicate departmental policy to schools, lack of guidelines for educators and learners, and lack of training for school governing bodies.
With Zimbabwe hosting students from Southern African countries such as Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi among others, a lot needs to be done to tighten screws and address legal gaps to end sexual harassment of foreign students in the country.