From Ali Galadima, Bauchi
Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, a Human Rights Activist, has expressed worries over the unprecedent rising cases of sexual harassment in higher institutions of learning in Nigeria
Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi is the Founder and Director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, stated this in an interview with journalists in Bauchi at the end of a one day training support for lecturers and administrators on protection of Girls in tertiary institution across the state.
The training which held at Bagari Hotels and Suites, Bauchi, had lecturers from the Bauchi State University, Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi, Abubakar Tatari Ali Polytechnic Bauchi and the Bauchi State College of Agriculture, as participants.
She said that although sexual harassment and other forms of gender based violence are not only peculiar to lecturers of higher institutions alone, she however, said that ASUU, ASUP have a great role to play in reducing it to the barest minimum.
“Sexual and gender based violence is a problem for the country and for the educational system, it’s a big issue. What we are doing here today is to see how we can gather voices together in higher institutions to assess the state of the problem and to also see what strategies are also in place by their different institutions to address the problem of sexual and gender based violence.
“Of a recent, there has been a lot of interventions particularly at the National Assembly level where there is a proposal for sexual harassment prevention policy, so this project is also in line with that to say that most of the higher institutions need to have policies and they need to go beyond policies to have actions.
“When they have policies, they must also be inclusive because we have realized that in most of the cases where they’ve had sexual harassment policy, it has not been effective and we have realized that it is because the students don’t believe in the system.
“They think that the situation is endemic and the system has grown with it, so they don’t trust the system, they are afraid to report even when they are not afraid, they don’t know who to report to.”
According to her, issues of sexual harassment on campuses is a “disgrace” to the higher institutions in the country.
She said that although her organization don’t have a data yet on the statistics of sexual harassment cases in higher institutions, that they are being supported to come with data.
“But from the feelers, that we are getting, sexual harassment in campuses is really endemic. It’s a big problem in the institutions and the students are really helpless in terms of addressing it. We must also acknowledge that within the last one year, there has been a lot of development around this issue because institutions have started taking action.
“We don’t want to wait until we have a situation like the UNILAG situation before they take steps. And that’s why we are coming around different schools and we are talking to them about the need for them to address the issue of sexual harassment and gender based violence that has eaten so deep into the system, that is making the students not to trust the system, that is also causing some form of disgrace for the higher institutions of learning in this country,” she stated.
She challenged ASUU to ensure that they tackle the rising cases of sexual harassment in the universities pointing out that: “I think ASUU needs to sit up in this matter, the body language of ASUU is not showing that they are ready to tackle this issue head on. If ASUU down not think it is important to discuss this matter because they see it as a women matter, then women in the should start their own Academic Staff Union.”
Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi lamented that sexual harassment and gender based violence has affected education negatively pointing out that a lot of students have left school because they failed for an offense they didn’t commit.
She added that a lot of students had to end their schools because they could not confront the monster of sexual harassment while some have lost their self confidence. Some of them are ashamed of themselves.
“I’ve had a meeting where I was talking to students and a particular student was just weeping because at a point in time, she had to give into the pressure of the lecturer, and while we were talking, she felt so bad that she could not stand for her right.
“I don’t blame the victims because at times, they are in compromising situations, so they have to do what they have to do. It is the system that should support the victims to be able to speak out when they are in trouble,” she advised.
She said that for the problems of sexual harassment and gender based violence to be addressed, a lot of awareness needs to be created in the school system pointing out that “the students must get their voice. They must speak above the whisper, they must be bold enough to speak about it.”
The Human Rights Activist advised that the school system must invest in it and they must put it in the budget because “it is not something they can just be doing by pasting posters and all of that, there must be a safe space within the higher institutions where students can go to without any fear of reprisal.”