A bill prohibiting sexual harassment of students by lecturers in tertiary educational institutions has passed its second reading in the Senate. The Senators in its affirmation debate on the bill argued that sexual harassment was rife in many higher educational institutions, hence the need for a law outlawing the vice.
However, the speedy process the bill received in the Senate has caught the attention and produced counter arguments from the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). ASUU has rejected the bill primarily because it would undermine university autonomy.
ASUU has stated that, as a global norm, university and other tertiary institutions are established by law as autonomous bodies and regulate their affairs. The union faults the bill as a selective attack against educationists. The legislators, it said, should know that sexual harassment is a societal problem and not peculiar to tertiary institution alone.
They also note that the bill violates the 2009 agreement between ASUU and the Government and section 42 (1) of the constitution.
The union accused the Senate of failing to provide convincing evidence to show that sexual harassment in tertiary institutions had attained a higher magnitude than in other spheres of society. They lecturers are arguing that the bill is dangerous and inimical to effective universities. The bill contains several loose and ambiguous phrases and terms. These could also be used to harass, intimidate, victimize and persecute lecturers, especially those suffering false accusations.
Socialist Worker condemns sexual harassment in any form and anywhere. But a selective bill targeted only at lecturers, is rather suspect. What we need is a comprehensive response to sexism and sexual harassment in all our educational institutions and society as a whole.
We definitely need to ensure that all young women are able to attend universities and colleges and that they feel safe in such institutions. To achieve this would need the following:
- clear processes for all women students to raise cases of sexual harassment with comprehensive investigation and appeals to protect the interests of both students and lecturers
- women students to be encouraged to take collective action against lecturers and other students for any acts of sexual harassment or insults to women students
- college health facilities to be upgraded so that all women students can easily and freely obtain suitable family planning
- provision of crèches at all colleges and universities to care for the children of any students.
But we also need much more than that. Fighting sexual harassment must be tied to the struggle for women liberation in general. It is instructive that the same Senate, earlier in April, rejected the Gender Equality Bill with th argument that it would allow women unfettered freedom to indulge in immorality.
Socialist Worker stands for the equality of women and men in all spheres of life. We equally stand for the unity of all workers and youth against the bosses.
by Adefolarin Olamilekan