Men are as seen to be biologically and socially more powerful than women in Zimbabwe and many other settings around the world. This means that they often have better access to leadership roles and positions – including as college lecturers and administrators – than women.
When I was a female student leader many years ago, I saw many barriers to my, and to my peers’, participation and involvement in decision-making. The exclusion of female students in leadership meant that our voices were not heard, our needs were not addressed, and our aspirations were not given space to flourish. Many women who did participate were labelled and subjected to various forms of abuse, including sexual harassment.
At the Female Student Network Trust (FSNT) we are fighting to change this. We are doing this first through individual transformation, where we are building the capacity of female students to understand their strengths and improve their leadership skills. We are also doing this through structural transformation, where these very same female leaders are challenging patriarchy and harmful social norms and transforming the institutions around them.
Since being awarded the UNESCO Prize on Girls’ and Women’s Education, we have expanded our efforts to raise awareness about sexual harassment in higher education, including during the 2016 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence. Our #SmartGirls campaign enhanced awareness among students at the Bindura University of Science Education and Great Zimbabwe University of different forms of sexual harassment, and where to go to report incidents and get help. We are also making strides to create safe learning environments across the 10 provinces of Zimbabwe, supporting referrals to counselling, and links to medical support services for female students affected by violence.
The UNESCO Prize is inspiring change within Zimbabwe’s student community. It is increasing female students’ capacity to be knowledgeable about issues affecting their safety, to speak out, and to create supportive learning environments in higher education. It is truly building the base – the foundation for success – with female leaders creating a better learning space for all.
Read more about FSNT’s work here.