By Victoria Ojeme
The National Centre for Women Development (NCWD) has commended the Nigerian Senate over the Sexual Harassment Prevention Bill.
The Director-General of the NCWD, Mary Ekpere-Eta, gave the applause to the lawmakers in Abuja yesterday and described the passage of the bill as a poignant moment in the struggle for women empowerment.
“The passage of the bill to criminalize sexual harassment of female students in tertiary institutions in Nigeria by the Senate stands as a poignant moment in the push for women empowerment.”
“I joined other critical stakeholders at the public hearing on this important law. I am glad that our voices were heard, as we fully supported the bill which will act a legal framework for protecting female students from unprofessional lecturers who practice and promote the dehumanizing culture of sex-for-grades,” Ekpere-Eta said.
The NCWD Director-General expressed appreciation to the sponsor of the bill, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege.
She called on the House of Representatives to pass the bill on time in order for President Muhammadu Buhari to sign it into law in the nearest future.
“Nigerian girls and women face different challenges in their quest for education. We still have places in our country where girls are overlooked when poor families are compelled to pick the children who will be sponsored in school.”
“We have stories of girls dropping out of school because they or other girls they know were raped in footpaths that lead to their schools. We also have girls who are married off at a young age to save money in their homes. It is girls who are sent out to hawk wares to augment their family’s income, despite the fact that they are exposed to danger.”
“It is gratifying that after women some of whom surmount the above challenges to make it into tertiary institutions, they will not have to contend with lecturers who harass them for sex, as a condition for passing their exams,” Ekpere-Eta also said.
Ekpere-Eta further commended the National Assembly on its plan to host a public hearing on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) for which it appointed Senator Omo-Agege whom she described as women’s hero and another strong supporter of women’s rights, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila as co-chairs.
“I believe that at the planned public hearing, issues around Gender-Based Violence, rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment will again be discussed with the goal of developing legislative instruments to curb the spike in sexual assault.”
“The planned meeting by the gender-friendly leadership of the 9th Assembly will also be a platform to repeat the call for states which haven’t, to domesticate other laws that protect women such as the Childs Right Act and the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act.”
“Using the Police Trust Fund as established by a legislation of the 8th Assembly to equip the Nigerian police with modern facilities and train its personnel to scientifically investigate and prosecute rape and sexual assault, this will be one of the issues I look forward to seeking the support of the National Assembly in making a reality,’” Ekpere-Eta added.
The bill against sexual harassment in tertiary institutions passed by the Senate last Tuesday prohibits the offence of sexual harassment of students in tertiary institutions and criminalizes the act of neglect or failure of administrative heads of tertiary educational institutions to address complaints of sexual harassment within a specified period of time.
The proposed legislation also creates strict liability offences by removing mutual consent as a defence in the prosecution of sexual harassment cases in tertiary educational institutions and maintains the fiduciary relationship that exists between educators and students.
It stipulates that any person who commits the offences of sexual harassment of students listed under the Bill shall in conviction be sentenced to imprisonment for 14 years or to a fine of five million Naira or both.