Sexual abuse making women drop out

October 17, 1997


MAKERERE University's vice chancellor, John Ssebuwufu, has set up a special committee to probe allegations of sexual harassment.

Student leaders at the Ugandan University have claimed that university officials sought sex from female students wanting part-time jobs to help pay their way through university. One senior academic has been exonerated of allegations while another has denied the charges.

According to senior researchers with the World Bank, sexual harassment is a reality at many universities in sub-Saharan Africa. They say that sexual violence and harassment in Africa's education institutions has reached pandemic levels in the past ten years.

Similar views are being voiced by the Forum for African Women Educationalists. Sheila Wamahiu, the pressure group's consultant, says acts of sexual violence and harassment have created an extremely hostile environment for young women in universities in sub-Saharan Africa, which is leading to inequality in education delivery and high drop-out rates for women students.

At Makerere, the annual drop-out rate for women stands at 20 per cent, compared to 3 per cent for men. The drop-out levels for young women in universities in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Zimbabwe are high compared with men.

Since tuition fees were introduced in public universities in sub-Saharan Africa, sexual harassment has been on the increase.

Aid agencies say there is high wastage among women students because of inefficiency, poverty, abuse and lack of female role models among faculty members.

"So far, fewer than 12 per cent of female lecturers are employed, in over 100 universities in sub-Saharan Africa," says Wangul Njau, a leading researcher on women's education at the Centre for Adolescent Studies. Dr Njau says female students are victims of unfriendly seminar culture, a lack of security and early marriages.

Sources at the University of Nairobi conceded that the problems with men were growing. "Financial constraints and fear of failing, as a result of poor academic performance, have thrown girls into the hands of randy lecturers," they say.

University authorities are being encouraged to take action against offenders. In Kenya, at Kenyatta University several lecturers have been sacked for sexually harassing students. At Egerton University, vice chancellor Japheth Kiptoon has promised to investigate charges of sexual harassment against a senior official. Elsewhere, gender activists are asking university officials to encourage girls to report lecturers who may be using their status to intimidate female students.

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