Female teachers have raised a red flag over rampant abuse they are facing at their workplaces and have called for permanent solutions to end it. Following the end of commemoration of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence (GBV) on Sunday, there was concern that such acts of abuse had been allowed to reach greater heights in the education sector. The Progressive Teacher's Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) women's conference held over the weekend noted that violence in psychological and emotional form was perpetrated by both females and males, with women being the major culprits.
Some of the female teachers who attended the conference and spoke to The Herald on condition of anonymity, said stringent penalties for perpetrators of work-related GBV were needed to fight the scourge.
"As a married woman, sometimes you get senior male teachers or the headmaster making persistent sexual advances at you," said one of the delegates. "It is emotionally stressful to handle such advances by your superior and do justice to your job simultaneously." Emotional blackmail was also cited as a serious issue in schools, where female teachers were promised promotions based on fulfilling sexual demands by high-ranking male teachers.
It came to light that GBV was also common among female teachers, a phenomenon that the teachers said was seldom talked about, yet was rife in staff rooms. "I'm a single mother and have been facing discrimination because of this status," said one of the teachers at the conference. "Single women are labelled as of loose morals, who can't develop themselves and whenever you advance yourself by either buying a car or building a house, this is associated with prostitution."
Asked if they report such issues to relevant authorities, the teachers said their reports were never properly addressed. "Some teachers don't report such cases to either the school authorities or police as both are sometimes hostile and not accommodative," said one of the teachers. "Some school heads sweep the matter under the carpet and even threaten unspecified action against the victim."
Some said the legal system did not view such violence as emotional and psychological. "If it's verbal abuse for example, a court of law may request evidence to show that I was abused," said another teacher. "But how can one get such evidence that so and so verbally abused me? This is what prevents some of the ladies from reporting because they know that their cases will not reach a favourable conclusion."
PTUZ president Mr Takavafira Zhou said it was a reality that female teachers were facing GBV at the workplace and there was need for "a paradigm shift of both women and men because gender issues cannot be solved from the perspective of one sex". He said there was need to empower women so that they claimed their rights, instead of begging for them.
Speaking at the same event, Women Action Group director Mrs Edina Masiiwa encouraged women to report all forms of violence and castigated some of the derogative language that has become acceptable.