Sex attacks fuel student drop-outs

April 26, 1996

Sexual violence and other related forms of harassment against female students in universities in sub-Saharan Africa are a major obstacle to the advancement of women's higher education in the sub-region, according to two World Bank researchers.

Adhiambo Odaga, consultant , and Ward Heneveld, an educational adviser at the bank's Africa technical department, say the violence also extends to teenage girls in primary and secondary schools.

The two researchers argue that whereas fiscal crises, civil strife, political instability, endemic poverty and high demographic pressures are some of the visible hindrances to women's education invisible crimes of a sexual nature permeate the spectrum of Africa's stagnation in enrolments.

They also affect the quality of gender education that is quite prevalent in so many countries in Africa.

According to Kevin Cleaver, director of the World Bank's Africa technical department, the number of females who drop out at all levels of education in sub-Saharan Africa because of sexual violence and harassment will never be known.

For instance, at Egerton University in Kenya, at least two female students drop out every week because of pregnancy.

Having to pay for education is also having a negative effect on the length of time girls remain in education and also on their performance. Financial pressures leads to sexual relationships, say Dr Odaga and Dr Heneveld, with the added risk of pregnancy, HIV and AIDS.

Statistics derived from studies of drop-outs in Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Sierra Leone indicate sexual harassment and violence plays a part.

In many countries, lecturers and teachers reward female students who "cooperate" with grades and tuition waivers.

Sheila Wamahiu, a former educational psychologist at Kenyatta University, says violence against women in universities often comes from male members of certain clubs and cults. "They prey on female students, abuse them verbally, cartoon them in obscene publications, harass them, beat them and rape them."

According to Godfrey Muriuki, director of undergraduate studies at the University of Nairobi, such cases occur. He argues that while universities may have tried to deal with them, the culprits are never punished because of the nature of the crimes.

At Kenyatta University several lecturers accused of harassing female students have appeared before senate sub-committees. Similar incidents are alleged at Makerere University in Uganda and the University of Dar-es-Salaam, among many others.

Women students in African universities also risk sexual attacks by state troops and policemen.

Recent reports from the Association of African Universities stress how soldiers and police rape female students during the times of unrest in government run universities and colleges. Some of the victims, says the report, end up dropping out altogether.

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