Female students dice with death for survival

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Many young womens chances to pursue higher education are often fraught with pitfalls, as circumstances beyond their control often force them to engage in high risk affairs often with older, sexually experienced men in which transactional sex is an inescapable reality.

While women would ordinarily have avoided such relationships, they often have no choice against a grim economic backdrop in which they have to find ways to get by while at university or college.

Older men who throw them financial lifelines they desperately need, however, do not come cheap.

Following the privatisation of catering services at most institutions of higher learning and, subsequently, the socio-economic malaise of the last decade, most female students from poor families have found themselves on the ropes.

Their choices are limited, according to Susan Mapinge (24), a fourth-year student at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), who has witnessed firsthand how desperate circumstances often call for desperate measures.

Its a sad story, really, she says. Life at university is often hard, especially for those who come from poor families. Getting money for food, books and such other requirements isnt easy, especially now when we are using the US dollar this forces many of us to seek men who are financially well-endowed.

But this comes at a price and its a high price, according to a student at the Harare Polytechnic, Shamiso Marize (23).

Obviously, the man you would be involved with will expect something in return for the cash and other goodies that he makes available to you, says Marize. And its just one thing, sex.

Often, a variety of factors determine the nature of cross-generational relationships that young women engage in and the impact such relationships have.

According to Dr Ruth Hope, in a report titled Gender Equality and Sugar Daddies, the unequal power relations imply women are disempowered to negotiate safe sex.

Gender, age and economic differences, she says, may increase risky sexual behaviour and reduce a young womans ability to negotiate safe sexual behaviours. Girls and young women are often unable to negotiate condom use in cross-generational sexual relations.

She adds that young women are significantly vulnerable given the structural and institutional issues such as lack of choice facing those living in poverty, the need to pay school fees and purchase of uniforms (for those still at school) and books which are all essential for their studies.

A Student Solidarity Trust report compiled by Professor Rudo Gaidzanwa and Dr Charity Manyeruke on a study examining the life of female students at the UZ concludes desperation has forced some students to do things they would not do under normal circumstances.

The report indicates that for some students, engaging in relationships of convenience was due to circumstances beyond their control.

Some of the students were unfortunate enough to be offered accommodation by a gardener who often compelled them to have sex with him as payment for the accommodation, reads the report.

Many students, though aware of exploitation, had no other means of surviving in Harare while attending university classes except by consorting with gardeners and other men offering cheap or free accommodation.

The introduction of the multiple currency regime in 2009 precipitated the rise in tuition fees, far beyond the reach of many parents.

Zimbabwe has up to 10 universities, all of which are unable to provide the most basic of needs for student survival, driving many of their female students into sex-for-cash transactions.

Most of the girls, who end up engaging in transactional sex relationships, would have left their parents homes as God-fearing and sexually-righteous individuals, but they are quickly exposed to this unsavoury behaviour upon getting into college.

Prostitution among college and university students exposes the consequences of inadequate student funding, lack of accommodation at these institutions and moral decay often precipitated by socioeconomic hardships.

According to Tsitsi Masvawure, a University of Pretoria researcher, some university students engage in multiple concurrent and cross-generational, sexual partnerships, which facilitate the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

According to the research, younger male students also helped connect female friends with wealthier, older men in an exercise known as pimping.

This runs against the traditional analysis that transactional sex is about money and sex, with boys giving money and girls giving sex.

These girls were not from the poorest households, they were from families that, in some cases, were politically connected, Masvawure says.

The study reveals problems in HIV prevention programmes on campuses and hopes it would lead to more targeted HIV interventions for students.
A representative of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, Coezett Chirinda, says it is about time the government intervenes and redresses the situation.

The basic needs of a person such as food, clothing and decent accommodation are now luxuries for students of Zimbabwe.

Female students have become victims of the governments negligence.

Affairs with sugar daddies and all other forms of immoral behaviour they embark on, are a result of having nothing to fall back on, he says.

He adds that the government has to reintroduce the loan and grant scheme as a means of funding tertiary education.