In the wake of the recent s3x-for-marks scandal at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (OAU) through the leaked audio conversation of a professor unabashedly demanding for five times of coitus from a female student in order to change her marks in his course, we have been once again reminded that gender based violence is not just prevalent in our homes and workplaces, but also in our schools. Indeed, it should be very clear that s3xual Harassment is still a a very big problem in the academia in Nigeria, with very grave implications for the society and its processes. When the leaked audio conversation went viral on the internet, Nigerians reacted with palpable anger as many expressed disappointment and indignation at the professor’s conduct in the social media. Nigerians were not only united in their condemnation, but were very pointed in calling for appropriate censure and punishment for the randy professor even as there was massive mobilisation to ensure that the authorities would not treat the issue with levity. Yet, the point has to be made that beyond the current justifiable anger on the part of Nigerians is the need to carefully and critically consider the pervasiveness of this kind of s3xual harassment in our educational institutions and see what danger it has been constituting and continues to constitute not only for the health and smooth functioning of the institutions, but more important for the sanity and effectiveness of females in these institutions.
This is particularly important against the background of the advertised interest of the society in the emancipation of women especially through the instrumentalities of girl-child education. Nigeria has for some years now committed itself to working for the promotion of girl-child education and one would like to ask how this commitment could be advanced within the context of pervasive and permissive s3xual harassment of the same girls at the schools that we want to encourage them to go to. It is significant for instance that following the mark-for-s3x scandal, many women have mustered the courage to share their own stories of s3xual abuse and how this abuse has kept girls out of school. And it so happens that the ordeals shared by the women occurred in school, with teachers or fellow students being the perpetrators. These were horrific ordeals endured in silence for long due to fear that, if they were to tell, nobody would believe them and that they could be subjected to further abuse which is not far from the reality. I remember being excited about the prospects of a new “mature” environment when I newly got into the university, but little did I know that I was in for a very rude awakening.
s3xual harassment was the order of the day across faculties as I got in and it got pretty hostile if girls did not give in to being propositioned on the corridors. Walking away resulted in very demeaning and harsh comments from the boys: “See her K leg”, “flat ass”, “you should be happy I’m toasting You”, “olosho”, “slut” and “bitch” were the common names and appellations for anyone who had the courage not to give in. However, the reality is that this gets much more complicated when the harassment is from a member of staff. In this respect, Premium Times recently published the story of a 300-level sociology student of the Lagos State University, Ojo (LASU) who was allegedly made to go through hell by her lecturer in a bid to punish her for refusing to ‘go down on’ him. She was failed repeatedly and couldn’t graduate with her mates, until what could be called divine intervention freed her from the clutches of the man.
There were also reports about students from the Eastern part of the country who lamented how academics in that region not only coerced girls to have s3x with them but would also ask for threesome encounters with the students picking the bills for the hotels for such rendezvous. We can only imagine the mental torture students who go through this kind of experience are coping with.
To be sure, what all these experiences portray and speak to is the hostile s3xual nature of the school environment for girls who have responded to the clarion call to be educated. In reality, virtually every girl has a story to tell about some form of gender violence or the other, from primary school all the way to university, and even into adult life as well. We are then left with the question of what kind of hope we entertain for our girls to have meaningful education in the kind of hostile and unsafe environment we create for them in all our schools. How do we intend to realise the goal of girl-child education when the school environment is such that makes learning difficult for girls leading to anxiety, failure, depression and forced dropout of the girls? Is it really possible for the girl-children to self-actualise in the environment of s3xual abuse that we subject them to in our various schools?
Although the government has, when confronted with publicised cases of such s3xual harassment, voiced concern and serious opposition to it, the truth is that there is not enough action at the level of the authorities of the various educational institutions to properly put this issue on the front burner. Every institution would only talk about putting in place necessary provisions and structures to ensure that s3xual harassment is not tolerated, yet they all know about its occurrence and pervasiveness and would not do anything concrete about it unless there are occasional publicized cases. We ought to know that the girl-children needs to be sensitised and empowered to be able to confront s3xual harassment, especially with the knowledge that the authorities would be looking out for her. But rather than do this, the girl-children are left on their own and are made to be at the mercy of rampaging teachers and lectures who are intent on taking advantage of them.
It is very worrisome that many females are not even aware that they could be helped to face those their s3xual oppressors or that there are policies and procedures in their schools to help them put up resistance to some of the harassment. The available regulations are not publicized and there is no conscious effort to get the girl-children enlightened about their provisions and protections.
- Yakubu is of the Department of Mass Communication, Kogi State University, Anyigba.
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