By Josephine Agbonkhese
Stakeholders have called for the improvement of anti-sexual harassment policies in higher institutions of learning across the country, to effectively address the spate of sexual harassment.
They made the call at a one-day consultative meeting with experts and regulatory bodies in the educational sector, a European Union project organised by the Women Advocates Research & Documentation Centre, WARDC.
Some of the stakeholders were Dr Ayeni Joseph Olabode, Deputy Registrar/Head of Counseling Unit, Lagos State University, and Dr Akinola Akintayo, Senior Lecturer/Researcher at the Department of Public Law, University of Lagos.
They noted that sexual harassment policies must contain a comprehensive definition of what constitutes sexual harassment.
“There must be a comprehensive definition of what sexual harassment entails. The policies must cover physical, emotional and psychological harassment.
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“There should also be an establishment of enforcement structure. Mechanisms should be put in place for victims to lay complaints. More importantly, the policy should protect students from retaliation—which is one reason many are discouraged from speaking up,” Akintayo explained.
Speaking on the rationale behind the project, Nihinola Aluko-Olokun, member, Board of Directors, WARDC, said sexual and gender-based violence have serious impacts on educational outcomes, with many students avoiding school, achieving below their potentials, or dropping out completely.
She added: “It can also result in low self-esteem and depression, early and unintended pregnancy, as well as sexually transmitted infections such as HIV.”
She further explained that the project collaborates with key stakeholders in the education sector to support standard operating procedures and policy guidelines that can strengthen institutions in Nigeria to be able to address sexual and gender-based violence.
Speaking on efforts made by the Lagos State University to address the menace of sexual harassment, Dr. Olabode said: “What we are trying to do at the Lagos State University is to domesticate the law and get more people to understand it, in a way that at all levels, we can apply the law to prevent sexual harassment in whatever form.
“So, at LASU we have a policy handbook on sexual harassment, as well as a response team which includes students.”