By Davies Mupenda
A matter that one could say the Zambian society has largely been shy to talk about came to be reported through the courage of a few female students who took their lecturer to court on allegations of sexual harassment.
It was reported, later, that the lecturer counter sued the students for defamation. We do not know at what stage the case is now because either the case was concluded without being reported or the media have stopped following it.
Even after a few cases about ‘sex for grades’ were reported, no known Zambian media houses, or individual journalists, sought to investigate the extent of the problem in the country’s institutions of higher learning.
Contrast this with West Africa where media houses followed the exploits of senior academics who were accused of the vice in a number of universities. Using under cover reporters, the investigation, for the BBC, took years in Nigeria and Ghana where fingers pointed to some senior academicians.
We took time to read articles and watch documentaries about the subject. They were quite insightful. At least one of the accused academicians threatened to sue the BBC. Local media gave a voice to the accused. Documentaries on the subject are available online.
It would seem that in Zambia, the issue is ‘swept under the carpet’ perhaps because sex is still considered a ‘private’ subject or people fear being victimised or stigmatized if they reported such cases.
Yet there are stories of some female students being favoured or victimised, depending on which side they are. And it should be known that this matter is not private because it involves people abusing their official positions. Equally consent cannot be used as defence because it involves someone taking advantage of the vulnerability of the other person.
About twenty years ago, at one of the local universities, a former senior government official turned lecturer ‘harassed’ a married course mate by asking her if she expected to pass without ‘seeing him for guidance’.
She asked him if his question was to do with her gender and he just said the choice was hers. His threat, however, was not empty as she failed his ‘simple’ course and had to appeal before she was made to pass.
She even had to change her programme of study, somehow, to avoid meeting him in future courses. Some female students, however, were the ones initiating relationships. When given assignments, they would literally camp in a lecturer’s office to ask what, exactly, he meant by the assignment questions.
At another local university there were stories of some female students doing so well in courses where they were ‘co-operative’ to lecturers and not so well in courses where they were not.
At this university it takes several meetings for an undergraduate student to have their research report approved. Female students are particularly made to wait abnormally long to meet some lecturers to review the reports. Like the case is in west Africa, some of the lecturers linked to ‘sex for grades’ are very senior at their institutions but it is a taboo to write or talk about such things, it seems.
For how else does one explain the lack of investigation, by the media, or authorities, into a matter which is widely spoken about in every institution of higher learning including those training journalists?
There is also no publicised cases of an institution of higher learning taking action against lecturers accused of sexual harassment or victimisation.
There is also no reported institution of higher learning which has highly publicised its anti-sexual harassment policy.