SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN UNIVERSITIES: IMPUNITY VS IMMUNITY?
I read a curious story on sexual harassment in the Vanguard newspaper, Friday August 14th, 2015 titled ”Sexual harassment in which the writer said that Nigeria badly needs effective laws against sexual harassment”. Before I add my voice to this epidemic that is eating deep into the Nigerian society, perhaps we should consider Chapter four of the Nigerian constitution which highlights the protection of fundamental rights of citizens flowing from the Africa Charter on Human and People's Rights, and the UN Declaration on People's Rights.
Several international legal instruments prohibit sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination against women. Till date the United Nations has organized four world conferences on women. These took place in Mexico City in 1975, Copenhagen in 1980, Nairobi in 1985 and Beijing in 1995. The last was followed by a series of five-year reviews. The Beijing Declaration and platform for Action, unanimously adopted by 189 countries is an agenda for women empowerment. It was considered a key global policy document on gender equality. Violence against women, human rights of women and the girl child were among the 12 critical areas of concern.
Over the years, several laws have been made, bills have been passed and different punishments have been put forward against sexual harassment in Nigeria. There have also been so many cases of sexual harassment reported in the media with so much pomp and pageantry. Some perpetrators have even been taken to court. Yet the orgy of sexual harassment keeps raging on.
It seems to me that there is so much sex harassment hype and publicity in the media without the requisite action to fight it. That is why sexual harassment, a by-product of corruption has continued to thrive in our society and especially in the universities. It is no longer news to hear students discussing one form of sexual harassment from lecturers in their various campuses. In some universities in Nigeria, grades are now measured by the two unlikely bed fellowships of academic non-performance and sexual gratification. Many have had the courage to say no to negative sexual advances while some give in after strong pressure. There is the possibility that even the small percentage of people who refuse to be intimidated or cowed face offers of material gifts and huge sum of money for sex while others continue to have carryovers and spillovers as their punishment for refusing sexual advances.
The implication of this situation is that students often times are awarded grades they do not merit and others who refuse to succumb deprived of grades they ordinarily deserve.
Sexual harassment is a two way traffic which can be initiated by a lecturer to a student or from the student to the lecturer. There are sundry instances where female students have sexually harassed lecturers. Some students even implicate some lecturers when they are sure that they will fail. They use the opportunity of the campaign against sexual abuse as their cover to implicate innocent lecturers and accuse them of sexual violence.
However, there are quite a number of students especially female students who have suffered sexual abuses in the universities and many more who will continue to suffer sexual violence because there are no structures in place or the existing structures are not strong enough to absorb or withstand the influence of the caliber of personalities involved.
At the presentation of a pilot study in Abuja, 26th of February, 2013 by an ICPC comprehensive systems study and review of Nigerian universities in collaboration with the National universities commission (NUC), over 50 corrupt practices were listed as being perpetuated in the universities. The ICPC chairman said: “Sexual harassment seems to rank extremely very high among corrupt practices uncovered in our universities. Report is based on the quantum of petitions we have received on this corrupt practice’, the ICPC chairman said at that presentation.
There are indications that the percentage of unreported cases of sexual harassment in these universities is more than reported cases. Go to the internet and you will find many of such cases. Most of the victims do not speak out because of fear of victimization leading to extra years in the school, social stigma and weak institutional structures in the university and in the society.
Relevant institutions in this country need to be strengthened to fight against the immunity that encourages impunity of some lecturers with regards to sexual harassment in the universities and others in the society at large. There is a gap between law making and the implementation of the laws. In reality, this gap has continued to legalize the impunity of some sexual bullies in the society. Yes, it is the immunity enjoyed by individuals in authority as a result of weak institutions and delay of justice in this country that has made sexual harassment to continue to thrive despite the laws that have been put in place against sexual harassment.
It is time for civil societies to go beyond creating awareness on the ills of sexual harassment to build and strengthen institutions to fight against the immunity that some sex-addicted lecturers enjoy. And this would likely discourage some unserious students from implicating some lecturers in universities.
Institutions within and outside the universities need to be strengthened against these highly influential personalities within and outside the universities.
Nigerians need to sufficiently take advantage of the provisions of the law to seek redress and to see that perpetrators are punished. Also a system needs to be put in place for us to monitor how punishment is served by perpetrators. It is only then that sexual harassment in the universities and in the society can be mitigated.
To this end, what we need now are solid and sustainable anti-corruption networks across the universities in Nigeria which can fight sexual abuses in schools and in the society.
*** Sandra Eguagie is Programme Officer with the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ.