Persistence of sexual harassment of girls in schools: A case of five selected secondary schools in Lusaka province of Zambia
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Though schools are supposed to be safe places for caring for pupils, most often they are not, because of sexual harassment, especially of female pupils. Sexual harassment is a global phenomenon recorded across various settings all over the world including Zambia. Sexual harassment may include remarks, gestures or actions that are sexual in nature by the perpetrator towards the victim. The purpose of this study was to investigate the persistence of sexual harassment of girls by male teachers, male staff and male pupils in five selected high schools in Chongwe, Kafue and Lusaka districts of Lusaka province in Zambia. The specific objectives were to investigate the cultural factors contributing to the persistence of sexual harassment, to establish economic factors that contributed to the practice, to determine school factors that influenced it and to ascertain the effectiveness of the laws and regulations put in place to combat the vice. This was a descriptive survey for which both quantitative and qualitative data was collected. Tools for data collection included questionnaires, interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs). The total sample size was one hundred and thirty eight (138) respondents consisting of 3 key stakeholders, 5 head teachers, 56 teachers and 74 pupils drawn from the five schools. The study revealed that sexual harassment was a problem in Zambian schools and that both pupils and teachers were aware about it. 47.3% of the pupils interviewed were aware about the existence of sexual harassment of girls in their school while 52.7 % said that they were not aware about it. Among the pupils who indicated that they were aware of sexual harassment of girls in schools, 9 were males and 26 were females. As for the pupils who said that they were not aware of sexual harassment in schools, 26 were males while 13 were females. From this information, it is clear that female pupils were more likely to be aware of the problem than male pupils. Perhaps this underscores the fact that the female pupils as victims bore the brunt of the burden of sexual harassment. 55.4% of the pupils said that sexual harassment of girls in schools was a problem while 44.6% said it was not a problem. All the teachers who participated in this study indicated that they were aware about sexual harassment of girls in their respective schools, confirming its existence. Nearly half of the teachers (48.2%) said they had witnessed an incident of sexual harassment at the respective school in the previous 3 years .Findings were that culture on sex had a great influence on sexual harassment in schools. Traditionally, sex has been used as an abuse of power exercised by those in power, who in this context happen to be male teachers and boys over slow learners or under privileged girls in schools. Economic factors like money, poverty, general vulnerability in relation to direct costs of schooling such as user fees and uniforms as well as academic favour also influenced sexual harassment of girls in schools. Academic favour is explained as teachers giving children good marks or grades irrespective of their actual performance and exemption from work. Schools on the other hand were discovered to lack handling procedures for protecting pupils who reported sexual harassment and those not yet been victims. Absence of clear policies and procedures for preventing and responding to harassment, attitudes among school authorities that minimize harassment or blame the school girls, inadequate or inappropriately lenient responses by school teachers and administrators, insufficient support services for pupils who are subjected to harassment as well as a preference for resolving cases of abuse internally rather than reporting them to relevant offices or civil authorities have been cited in the findings as well. Teaching Service Commission reviewed that over 1,000 teacher’s had been reported at the Commission in the year 2009-2011 for sexually harassing female pupils in schools. Out of this number only eight (8) male techers had been dismissed country wide. The study recommended among others that MoE should include in all Colleges of Education a component that will deal with issues relating to sexual harassment of girls in schools; design and implement guidelines for schools on how to effectively and expeditiously deal with sexual harassment and disciplinary action for teachers or fellow pupils if found wanting effectively and expeditiously. Lastly the study recommended that School authorities should create and publicize a sexual harassment policy and give a photocopy to parents.
University of Zambia
Master of Arts in Gender Studies