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What You Need To Know About The Sexual Harrasment Bill

What You Need To Know About The Sexual Harrasment Bill
July 9, 2020 STER

By Aminat Lawal

 

Sexual Harassment continues to be a recurring issue in different levels and sectors in Nigeria. Recently, there has been a heightened awareness of the sexual harassment of students in higher institutions in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. In a research conducted between 2009 and 2010 by Owoaje and Olusola-Taiwo[1], it was reported that 69.8% of female students had experienced sexual harassment in Nigerian institutions with 32.2% of them being asked for sexual requests in exchange for academic favors. In another study conducted by Okeke(2011) in Anambra State University, 64% of the participants reported that they had been touched inappropriately by a faculty member. 98.8% of the total reports of sexual harassment cases in research conducted by Taiwo C.Omole and O. E. Omole spanning five universities in South-Western Nigeria were of those perpetrated by male lecturers.

However, most of the sexual harassment claims in Nigerian institutions lie unreported and in the rare cases where it is reported, the solution offered often leaves the student stigmatized and in some cases, forced to leave the university. It was recently reported that a student who exposed a lecturer who was demanding sex from her has not been able to collect her certificate from the university[2]. At the unveiling of a policy document against sexual harassment at the University of Port Harcourt, an assistant director of the Ministry of Education warned the female students to refrain from harassing their lecturers and going to them unnecessarily[3]. Therefore, to say there is a problem that is in desperate need of a solution would be an understatement.

Thus, the need for the adoption of the proposed Sexual Harassment bill. The bill titled “A Bill for an Act to prevent, prohibit and redress Sexual Harassment of students in tertiary educational institutions and for matters concerned therewith, 2019‘ was first introduced in 2016 but it was thrown out of the House of Assembly. However, it was reintroduced in October 2019 following a public outrage that was awakened by the ‘Sex for Grades’ BBC documentary. It has currently passed the third reading and final stage.

The objective of the bill is to promote and protect the ethical standards in tertiary education by; providing for the protection of students against sexual harassment by educators in tertiary educational institutions prevention of sexual harassment by educators in tertiary educational institutions and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment of students by educators in tertiary educational institutions.

According to the bill, an educator will be guilty of sexual harassment if he/she has sexual intercourse or demands sex from a student or prospective students; makes sexual advances towards a student; grabs, hugs, kisses or touches sensual parts of the body of a student; displays, gives or sends naked or sexually explicit videos or pictures to a student; or makes remarks about a student’s physique. It is also clarified that an offender and a victim can be of either gender.

The bill also proposes a penalty for offenders. It recommends a term of 14 years but not less than 5 years with no option of fine for any educator who is found guilty of demanding sex from a student, intimidating a student, or inducing another person to commit an act of sexual harassment. A term of 5 years not less than 2 years with no option of fine is recommended for any educator found guilty of touching a student, sending sexual pictures or videos, or making sexual advances towards a student.

It also states that the administrative head of an institution shall establish an Independent Sexual Harassment committee with the Chairman of that committee helmed with the responsibility of making and submitting an annual report of sexual harassment complaints received and actions taken by them. Either a student or a representative of the student can make a sexual harassment complaint. The bill also provides that the administrative head of an institution shall ensure that a student who makes a sexual harassment complaint is protected from victimization from the educator who the complaint is made against and any other person within the institution.

The intention of the offender, that is, the educator is not necessary to be proven and it also states that the consent of a student will not be a defence to a claim. The only defence it allows for claims against sexual harassment is a legal marriage between the student and the educator.

This bill has the capability to reduce instances of sexual harassment in higher institutions in Nigeria, protect victims of sexual harassment from victimization, and ensure that educators found guilty are penalized. This is necessary to provide a safe space for learning in tertiary institutions as sexual harassment has been proven to have negative effects on the psychological and physical health of victims.

We are elated that the bill has passed its third hearing, but the journey doesn’t stop here. We must demand that all Universities across Nigeria implements the provisions of the bill. We must demand that the bill isn’t amongst many that are left unimplemented. We must ask for accountability.

References

[1] Janice Joseph “Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Institutions: A Comparative Perspective”. 2015

[2] Retrieved from https://www.vanguardngr.com/2020/02/i-was-denied-certificate-for-exposing-randy-lecturer-osagie/ on June 3rd, 2020

[3]  Retrieved from https://www.thecable.ng/dont-harass-your-lecturers-minister-tells-uniport-female-students on June 3rd, 2020

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