By Odunayo Toluwanimi, Ibadan
Women lawyers, scholars, activists and students are reacting to the bill recently passed by the Senate for an Act to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions and for Other Matters in Nigeria.
The bill, which pegged 14 years jail term, with a minimum of 5 years, without an option of fine for any educator who commits sexual offences in tertiary institutions, is awaiting assent by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Classified; “A Bill for an Act to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions and for other matters connected therewith 2019,” with 27 clauses, the bill defines sexual offences to include “sexual intercourse with a student or demands for sex from a student or a prospective student or intimidating or creating a hostile or offensive environment for the student by soliciting for sex or making sexual advances.
Other forms of sexual harassment identified in the bill are grabbing, hugging, kissing, rubbing, stroking, touching, pinching the breasts or hair or lips or hips or buttocks or any other sensual part of the body of a student; or sending by hand or courier or electronic or any other means naked or sexually explicit pictures or videos or sex related objects to a student, and whistling or winking at a student or screaming, exclaiming, joking or making sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique or stalking a student.
In their reactions, some say it would go a long way in curbing the menace, while others fault what they say is its limited scope, by being limited to higher institutions alone and yet a few note that it would duplicate existing legislation giving the litigious events and convictions of past cases.
Leading the pack is the Coordinator of Women’s Research and Documentation Center, WORDOC,Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Dr. Sharon Omotoso.
While noting that there are grey areas that still needs attention before the bill is passed into law and adopted by key stakeholders, she agreed that the bill is a welcome development in the sense that it creates awareness for all stakeholders to be cautious when interacting on campuses.
She said: “First, the bill must not discountenance the fact that students also harass educators. Secondly, administrative arms of Institutions should also be captured within the bill. Likewise, there are are vague concepts, such as ‘winking and whistling’ how will these be proven in the court of law? How will sexual compliments be defined? What security measures (security camera and others) are to be provided by government in their owned institutions? How will these be enforced in private institutions? Some Institutions like the University of Ibadan already have their Gender and Sexual Harassment Policies. How does the bill fit in, complement or strengthen these institutional policies?
“What about dignitaries who pick students on campus for sexual gratification? Will it be captured?
The Gender Mainstreaming Office and the Women’s Research and Documentation Center (WORDOC) of the University of Ibadan hereby raises the need for a holistic re-assessment of the bill before it becomes law. If lawmakers are doing this, it must be a holistic fight against sexual harassment”.
On her part, Mrs. Patricia Abokede, who is the founder, Pabokede Initiative, lecturer and child protection activist and development psychologist congratulated the Senate on the bill because it “will give our students especially the female voice to speak up against sexual harassment and enforce seriousness on lazy students who always want a shortcut through the back door” noting that the “school should be a more safe place for our students”.
She said; “At the same time I expect this bill when it turned to law should be enforced with the necessary penalty attached to the offence. It will become of no effect when no necessary effort is made to ensure anyone caught is properly dealt with. Furthermore, the law would help the education system better because it will no longer be business as usual. Every party, both students and lectures will be more serious. For the second question, I hope it will help to reduce the rate of sexual harassment in the campuses because like I said earlier, only if strict measures are applied to bring anyone found guilty to book, then, it will force the everyone to sit tight.”
A lecturer at Lead City University, Ibadan, Mr. Tosin Adekunle Adeluwoye, said:”The expectation sincerely is that this law effectively deters the growing menace around sexual harassment as it is now in the society. I expect that when this bill is signed into law, adequate public enlightenment and education particularly in the public media will be weaved created around it. Because the problem we have always had as a country is not lack of laws or people to formulate them, but instead lack of enforcement which begins with the total ignorance of this law. Hence, because many are not even knowledgeable about it, they are readily cheated or exploited without being able to seek a redress from the law.
Adding a voice to it, the Oyo State Chairperson of International Federation of Women Lawyers, Mrs. Collins Deborah Oluyemisi,said:”The bill when finally assented is expected to help curb sexual harassment the purpose for which it was put together.
Speaking also, a public affairs analyst, Comrade Azeem Oladimeji Salako said restricting the bill to the higher institutions rather than the general public, is grossly erroneous, adding that since there already exist existing laws local, national and international laws that criminalises sexual harassment in Nigeria, attempt to create another law may not be necessary. Instead, he stated,” there is the need to enforce implementation of the existing laws and possibly an amendment that can ensure deterrent particularly in respect to jail term. I am averse to a life imprisonment or death sentence except if it was a rape. ”
He said: ” I expect that the Senate should be more concerned about sexual harassment as an act and not as a practice in the school. The school itself is a complex structure with different complex relationships- lecturer-students, administrators-students, principal officers-administrators-lecturers, lecturers-lecturers and others. If this bill fly then it will certainly be less effective even within the context of lecturer-students relationship. Fourthly, there is the need to look into the implementation and the process of implementation of sexual harassment in Nigeria especially in the supposedly despised higher institutions. There need to integrate ASUU, NASU and relevant organizations as watchdogs”.