Preliminary Investigation on the Abuse of Girls in Zimbabwean Junior Secondary Schools

This study found that the abuse of girls in the co-educational schools where the research took place was widespread and took the form of aggressive sexual behaviour, intimidation and physical assault by older boys; sexual advances by male teachers; and corporal punishment and verbal abuse by both female and male teachers (on boys as well as girls). Younger girls in particular were fearful of male sexual advances or intimidation. An unsettling and sometimes violent environment is neither conducive to girls’ learning nor to their forming mature relations with boys (with implications for the spread of HIV/AIDS among adolescents). Girls in the single-sex school were not protected from sexual advances outside the school. Male sexual aggression in schools appears to be institutionalised and considered as ‘normal’. Girls respond on the whole with resignation and passivity.

Schools are themselves complicit in the abuse in that they fail to discipline perpetrators (whether pupils or teachers), deny that abuse exists and foster an authoritarian culture where the behaviour of teachers cannot be questioned. School-based abuse is a reflection of abuse found elsewhere – in the home and the community. ‘Sugar daddies’ in particular seek to lure girls into sexual relations with gifts and money. This widespread abuse goes unchecked because of the low status accorded women by society, where men invade women’s private space with impunity and girls are socialised to expect subordination to men in adult life. Lack of will to address the issue by government bodies helps to perpetuate and condone it. Eliminating abuse will require a significant change in school culture, and in the attitudes and behaviour of teachers, school heads, Ministry officials, parents and pupils, both boys and girls.