Whatever we say, for many years, Nigerian Senate had been silent on many critical Issues. For serious minded people, it appears many Senators are there to network or make money instead of performing the essential roles as well as justifying their elections. It has not been uncommon for Senators to pursue other agenda and wait till a few days to the closing of the four year session before it will suddenly wake up to reality and passed over 40 bills within few hours. At least we have example in the seventh Assembly. If for anything the present Senate should be commended for swallowing its pride by ‘burrying’ the obnoxious social media bill.
This said, we strongly believe the ongoing Sexual harrassment in tertiary institution is a welcome development and should not be allowed to go the way of women/gender bill that was murdered before it saw the light of the day.
With the sexual harrassment in the tertiary institution bill, we do think the time is ripe and the evil that had been perpetuated and covered up for years should now be exposed.
The effect of this has been enormous. Many Ladies had suffered in silence. In many cases they had sought the help of family members, colleagues of the Male lecturer (this is common) to appeal to the initiator to know avail. For one I knew a lady whose grade point dropped because she would not concent to sexual advances. Not long ago, an elderly lecturer was actually harassing my niece even when the conversations were on tape, the man vehemently defended his position and vowed not to let her graduate among other treats.
We have also heard of a groom to be having to go and appeal to his fiancee’ lecturer so she could be allowed to graduate after an extra session orchestrated by the so called ‘ sexual terrorist’ in the name of a lecturer. We must admit though in may cases, the issue is not just one sided. There are female students who go around looking for victims they can sleep with because they will not give serious attention to the main reason they are in school for.
A cousin of this writer who is a senior lecturer in one of the Universities here in Nigeria shared an experience he had with a matured postgraduate female student who came to him to offer anything just for her to pass a paper even if It is not in flying colour. Another male family friend who is also a lecturer had shared how he had to organize an emergency oversea trips immediately after each semester exam just to escape unwarranted sexual offerings as he is determined to be faithful to his wife.
Are we drawing the conclusion that all Nigerian and albeit global male lecturers’ hands are unclean? The answer to that is capital No. But it must be said many female students had suffered untold hardship and one feels good this bill is coming at the right time.
But before we go on we hope this will help Nigeria Senate to understand the route it is plying, what is sexual harassment in itself and what does it cover?. Many writers and sexual harassment right activists and organisations had agreed on what it means. A common definition is that sexual harassment is ‘Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature’. To underscore the importance of this, it was argued that the word ‘unwelcome’ is very critical here. Meaning that if the victim succumbs in a seemingly ‘ voluntary’ circumstance, it is still involuntary or non consensual because the victim is coharsed into it as a result of inherent punitive measures attached to non compliance.
Another meaning by US. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights claims sexual harrasment is ‘unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors: verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature’. It went further to give examples of such offence as ‘touching in a sexual nature; making sexual comments, jokes, or gestures; writing graffiti or displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures, or written materials; calling students sexually charged names’.
A perpetrator of sexual harassment needs to know the far reaching implications of their action especially within tertiary and learning environment. In an article by Dr. Nan Stein, ‘sexual harassment is unwanted and unwelcome and it has far reaching effects on the victim. It can actually ‘interferes with the right to receive an equal educational opportunity’. This is also considered a right issue and it is a form of sex discrimination.
For the victim, Northwestern University in the USA survey identified varied effects on the victim like anxiety, frustration, depression, sleeplessness, having to drop courses or staying longer due to excessive persecution, humiliation, low grade, stress on other relationships of the victim. Another source, live science identified issues associated with sexual harassment in school on victim like post traumatic stress, blood pressure, suicide among others.
With regards to the seriousness of the nature of sexual harassment in school, it includes verbal: referring to adult person not close as babe, honey, telling sexual jokes, making kissing sound, unnecessary body brushing, making suggestive facial expression. In an article by Caroline Hill and Holly Kearl, the followings are identified : touching in an unwelcome sexual way, having someone flash or pose themselve for you, showing sexy or sexual pictures that you didn’t want to see.
With this background set, sexual harassment offenders within school /tertiary institution are not only female or male lecturers, it includes all employees, students to students and students to lecturers. But a caveat must be raised here, a common excuse of indecent dressing should not be accepted. What we have also known is that the department and school authority’s past complicity in the offence should now be seen as a serious offence. In advanced Countries, a school can be liable for not having a strict and enforceable laws which does not permit allow favouritism or unusual defence, support for perpetrators. If Nigerian Senate is ready, which it must, it must make a comprehensive coverage of all the issues involved. Nigerian women, female undergraduates and postgraduate students, civil right activists and related non profit organisations must rise to contribute to this bill which had passed the second reading. It is also important and may not be out of place to suggest a special court or tribunal that can ensure speedy process of every litigation in this regard as we know that the present legal system in Nigeria may not ensure justice is done without delay as justice delay is often justice denied.
The bill may appear dangerous but we must be ready to go all the way.
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