We are African feminist scholars and feminist scholars of Africa, working in institutions both on and off the continent. All of us have direct or second-hand experience of, or are familiar with the kinds of sexual harassment which the BBC Africa Eye documentary: Sex for Grades exposed recently. Last year, a CNN cover story highlighted Sex for Grades violations in Nigeria. We are aware that sexual harassment in higher education institutions has eaten deep into the fabric of our society. Sexual harassment of students is tied to unequal power relations and the flagrant abuse of power predominantly by male faculty and staff of tertiary institutions and beyond, into the lower school levels where some teachers see this practice as part of the privileges enshrined in the education workspace. We find this to be unconscionable and a clear violation of the rights of girls and women to a safe and dignified pursuit of education.
We note that sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assault are so ingrained in campus cultures that the channels for reporting are ineffective.
Some of us have dealt with cases of sexual harassment in our universities, as members of disciplinary committees. We have listened in amazement as male colleagues tried to protect predators. As feminists, we have been called all sorts of names. Some of us are also survivors of sexual harassment in the academy. We join our siblings in speaking out against and condemning the violence against women in these spaces that should offer a safe environment for learning and growth.
We applaud the young African women who put their safety at risk to conduct this investigation.
These include Kiki Mordi and Monica Osagie who brought the issue to the limelight last year. We are glad to see and hear African stories told by African women. We recognise the need for support of women in order to recount their experiences of sexual intimidation and coercion in the face of gendered institutional hostility and the ensuing risks of victimisation and stigma. We note that the documentary has already prompted long-overdue action by authorities in Ghana and Nigeria, and we hope that the women who come after us can pursue their studies in safety, free of gendered harassment and abuse. We are happy that this public attention initiated by African women has amplified a much-needed conversation in our universities and other tertiary institutions. We stand with this generation of students to end sexual harassment in African universities.
Gendered sexual violence is not unique to African universities and we are careful to not reinforce victim-savage-savior narratives.
While we often (justly) fear the consequences of publicly denouncing the treatment of Black women (cis or trans), when it’s at the hands of Black men, there is no way of even having an internal debate without the public gaze. In fact, the public gaze has been constantly used to silence many of us.
We note that Nigerian feminists have been working for decades to expose the multiple ways in which sexual harassment and sexual violence are embedded in university life. A sexual harassment prohibition bill introduced in 2016 failed to get through both houses of parliament in Nigeria, but is now back on the parliamentary docket as a result of the Sex for Grades documentary. However, we are also aware that a senate investigation which began last year on the same issue, yielded no fruitful result. We applaud the swift actions taken by churches such as the Foursquare Church, and institutions such as the University of Lagos and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria to ensure that the members involved are summarily dismissed and their actions openly condemned.
We acknowledge the swift response by the National Accreditation Board of Ghana charging all educational institutions to institute sexual harassment policies, systems, structures and legislation that seek to protect students, especially female students and to implement the same or lose their accreditation. We further credit the Ghana Domestic Violence Coalition for its efforts towards leading discussions on the development of a national sexual harassment law in the country. The Centre for Gender Studies and Advocacy (CEGENSA) at the University of Ghana has had a sexual harassment policy since 2010, and adjudicated several cases, including some faculty and student dismissals.
We acknowledge pioneering work on sexual harassment across Southern Africa, led by Jane Bennett at the African Gender Institute, Amanda Gouws at Stellenbosch University, and others. In Nigerian universities, the Initiative for Women’s Studies in Nigeria, led by Charmaine Pereira, conducted extensive research on sexual harassment. In Uganda, Professor Sylvia Tamale led a 2016 investigation of sexual harassment at Makerere University which culminated into a comprehensive revision of the institution’s 2006 Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy. (See Appendix for links to these publications)
The ethical questions before us, raised by this documentary, are:
- What do we, as African feminists, do about the message?
- How do we work to facilitate justice for the victims of gendered sexual violence?
- What steps do we take to protect young women in our universities and other tertiary institutions and give them a means of relief?
- What should be done to prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence in universities and other institutions of tertiary education?
That this documentary has sparked conversations and motivated survivors to come forward and share their stories on social media, and/or to confide in friends and family, is a critical step in breaking the silence around sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual abuse in many African tertiary institutions. We hope that as we push for policies to be instituted to protect students from teachers and lecturers who abuse their power, we work in the same vein to dismantle the systems that allow rape culture to fester in our universities and society at large.
Following current conversations around gendered sexual violence in African tertiary institutions, we hereby join in the calls for:
- Complete investigations into all alleged cases of abuse and harassment and the perpetrators brought to justice
- A systematic review of university policies on sexual harassment and the revamping of all systems of reporting, in particular, and protection from adverse repercussions for survivors and whistleblowers
- Open consultations on sexual harassment policies and call for survivors to come forth in protective environments to report past and present cases of harassment
- Open consultations with students and action-focused research that can identify how universities and other tertiary institutions can better support and protect all students from all forms of harassment.
- South African universities to implement the recommendations of the respective Rape Culture Task Teams that investigated rape culture at different universities, following mass protests in 2016.
May all survivors of sexual abuse and sexual harassment find justice and peace.
We stand with all our comrades leading the fight against sexual harassment and sexual assault. We join their call for ZERO TOLERANCE for gendered sexual violence.
Rhoda Nanre Nafziger
Wunpini Fatimata Mohammed
Msia Kibona Clark
Asma Abdel Halim
Jacqueline-Bethel Tchouta Mougoué
Alicia C. Decker
Marla L. Jaksch
Nada M. Ali
Nompumelelo Zinhle Manzini
Elias Kifon Bongmba
Esther O. Ajayi-Lowo
Akosua Adomako Ampofo
Aneeth Kaur Hundle
Abigail E. Celis
Find below some resources (reports, policy documents and journal articles) on sexual harassment in African universities:
Charmaine Pereira, (2004). “Sexual Harassment in Nigerian Universities.”
Jane Bennett, Amanda Gouws, Andrienetta Kritzinger, Mary Hames, & Chris Tidimane (2007). “Gender is Over”: Researching the Implementation of Sexual Harassment Policies in Southern African Higher Education
Sylvia Tamale, (2016). Report on the Investigation of Sexual Harassment at Makerere University to the Vice Chancellor. https://news.mak.ac.ug/sites/default/files/downloads/Makerere-Committee-Investigating-Sexual-Harassment-FINAL-Report-June2018.pdf
University of Ghana Special Reporter, (2017). Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Policy. https://www.ug.edu.gh/pad/sites/pad/files/u6/paddocs/Sexual%20Harassment%20and%20Misconduct%20Policy%20Web.pdf
Sex for Grades – CNN Report 2018
2018 Nigerian Senate Launches Investigation
Nyavi A. G, (2019), “Protect Female students” accessed at graphic on-line.com
The following resources document the actions that have been taken/are being taken to address sexual harassment and sexual abuse in African universities:
ASUU condemns ‘Sex for Grades’, demands thorough investigation, sanction for offenders https://www.pulse.ng/news/local/asuu-condemns-sex-for-grades-demands-thorough-investigation-sanction-for-offenders/zzgm9ds
ABU sacks 16 over sexual harassment, other offences
Nigeria is Re-introducing a New Bill on Sexual Harassment
Sexual Harassment- UNILAG suspends another lecturer