How many Tanzanian students experience sexual harassment and what can they do about it? These key questions were among those addressed by delegates at a half-day conference in Dar es Salaam, hosted by Internews on May 3, 2019.
The fifty-two guests included thirty-two women, some with direct experience of sexual harassment on campus, who shared anecdotes and suggestions about how to “break the silence” on a problem that seems widespread yet receives little mainstream attention.
Delegates included college students and lecturers, journalists, CSOs, and diplomats from foreign embassies. Discussions covered different yet related aspects, including coercion, retaliation, impunity for perpetrators, and inadequate grievance procedures for victims.
Keynote speaker Dr. Vicensia Shule, a lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam revealed that serious discussion of harassment started only after a female student committed suicide. “Nowadays, we have policies and by-laws to combat sexual harassment on campus, but the problem is – how to make them effective and clarify that harassment is a crime?”
She added, “Sexual harassment is not just about physical contact or indecent exposure. It’s also about words that intimidate or spread rumors on sexual status, sexual relations, and the like. Our rules and regulations prohibit many aspects, notably student-staff relations because of the power factor involved. If staff or students engage in such relations, then they must declare this conflict of interest to the college administration.”
A journalism student from the University of Dar es Salaam said, “If a female student rejects a college lecturer’s advances, the lecturer will often retaliate with poor or failing grades for the student.” This transactional method is known as sexual corruption or even sextorsion.
A fellow student added, “If we complain of inappropriate behavior, college authorities ask for proof. But how do you prove a teacher touched you? We should know what to do, where to go, and how to defend our rights.”
A lecturer from Saint Augustin University responded, “Every college needs an independent body, with real integrity, where its students can report sexual harassment and get practical solutions.”
The participants agreed that Tanzanian media should launch a large awareness campaign against sexual harassment. Launching its own contribution, Internews Tanzania presented a short film entitled Option 3. The film is Internews’ latest PSA on sexual harassment in Tanzania and features a male lecturer offering a bewildered student better grades in return for sex. When she declines the offer, he tries to coerce her by insisting that this is all part of her “education.”
Internews Chief of Party Angela Nicoara said anecdotal evidence suggests sexual harassment is a problem in media and harassment of trainee journalists starts at college. “People know harassment happens but many feel unable to take action, or decline to do so. We hope our PSA will prompt debate about this topic and empower women to resist.”
Written and produced in Tanzania, the film was well-received by conference participants who offered to share the PSA on traditional and social media.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), up to 20 per cent of female students in Nairobi, the capital of neighboring Kenya, have been sexually harassed. According to Tanzania’s The Citizen newspaper, fifty per cent of female students and forty per cent of male students in Uganda have experienced sexual coercion on campus.
As for Tanzania itself, while no official statistics are available, anecdotal evidence seems plentiful and comes from a variety of sources. For example, one delegate at Internews’ conference stated, “We should start by liberating women journalists; they are also harassed but not ready to break the silence. How can they help other people facing the same problem, if they can’t talk of their own situation?” (See a PSA produced about this problem.)
The PSAs are produced under USAID’s Boresha Habari project, implemented by Internews in Tanzania to support women journalists.