When Nigeria’s education minister faced an audience of 1,000 schoolchildren, she expected to hear complaints of crowded classrooms and lack of equipment. Instead, girl after girl spoke up about being pressured for sex by teachers in exchange for better grades. One girl was just 11 years old.
For years, sexual harassment has been rampant in Nigeria’s universities, but until recently very little was done about it. From Associated Press interviews with officials and 12 female college students, a pattern emerges of women being held back and denied passing grades for rebuffing teachers’ advances, and of being advised by other teachers to give in quietly.
The problem has spread into schools, says Ezekwesili, and there are signs the government is finally ready to intervene. Now that harassment even features in a song by a popular Nigerian musician, Eedris Abdulkareem, it is almost impossible to ignore.
“Mr. Lecturer, come get it on with me,” croons a young girl in the song. “I’m gonna rub your back and your potbelly, make you pass my paper.” With a deep chuckle, Abdulkareem replies, “Come into my office.”
Most victims are college students such as Chioma, a slim, quiet 22-year-old with a B average, who repeatedly failed political science after refusing her teacher’s explicit demands for sex. She said he was a pastor and old enough to be her grandfather.
“Some lecturers see young girls as fringe benefits,” she said, wearing a black T-shirt that says “this is what a feminist looks like.” “We’ve had cases where the girls have complained and the heads of their department have called them and said, ‘Give him what he wants.’”
In a recent survey carried out by a graduate student and funded by WARSHE, 80 percent of over 300 women questioned at four universities said sexual harassment was their no. 1 concern.
But with a strong African tradition of respecting one’s elders, families or teachers, harassed students can rarely expect support, even when repeated complaints are made against one individual.
Bola, a 27-year-old political science graduate with a C average, said she was repeatedly harassed by a teacher who had assaulted several other students.
“He was troubling me to go and see him at odd hours, very late, but I didn’t go,” she said, gold earring glinting under her long hair. After she refused, she said, she had to retake the class twice, along with four other female students who spurned the professor’s advances.
“Even my parents didn’t want to help with the problem,” she said. “I wish we could get someone with courage to face that man.”
Harassment is commonplace in schools and colleges in many African countries, says Miriam Jato, a senior adviser to UNFPA, the U.N. agency that deals with gender issues. She says dodging teachers’ advances consumes a girl’s school years.
“In some rural areas, parents withdraw girls from schools when they reach a certain age because they are afraid they will have to have relations with teachers.”