By Agbaje Ayomide
Gender Mobile Initiative (GMI), a non-governmental organization, is set to respond to the fight against sexual and gender-based violence in Nigerian higher institutions with its new, frontline mobile technology app, CampusPal.
This is coming in addition to the various efforts of governments, educational administrators and stakeholders over the years in the fight against the scourge of immoral sexual behaviour and gender-based violence.
Yearly, reports show an unprecedented increase in the scourge of sexual violence and sex for grades in Nigerian tertiary institutions.
In a survey conducted in 2018 by the World Bank Group’s Women, 70% of females that graduated from Nigerian tertiary institutions have been sexually harassed in school, with their classmates or lecturers being the major perpetrators.
Speaking with UCJ-UNILORIN in an exclusive interview, Gender Mobile Initiative’s Executive Director, Omowumi Ogunrotimi, says sexual harassment is a pervasive practice and has recently assumed critical dimensions in higer education institutions in Nigeria. This is as national data continue to reveal its increasing prevalence and varying manifestation as a pattern of violence that is gendered and power-centred.
“The prevalence of sexual harassment amount to factors such as under-reportage of cases, the non-existent or lack of proper implementation of anti-sexual harassment policies in institutions, poor institutional response, unequal power relations,fear of being further victimized and lack of confidential reporting channels,” she said.
Ogunrotimi, a gender advocate and social justice lawyer, while speaking on how CampusPal will address this challenge, said the initiative is anchored on a tripartite approach which revolves around policy design, institutionalization of bystander intervention and technology adoption for confidential reporting, data generation and effective case management.
“We also want tertiary institutions to be encouraged by this initiative to develop their own context specific policy framework and ensure legal compliance,” the Executive Director noted, giving more insights into the initiative’s impact mission. “This is to promote a shared responsibility in ending sexual harassment by improving institutional response through proper accountability.”
We are willing to welcome the initiative, says Unilorin Management
Speaking with the Sub-Dean of Student Affairs Unit, UNILORIN, Dr. Alex M. Akanmu, he commended the CampusPal initiative saying the response efforts and support services facilitated by the features of the app will achieve its intended mission. However, he stated that the organization has to be careful in verifying the reported cases and follow due process to ascertain the veracity of the claims by victims.
Also, in a letter to the Vice Chancellor furnished to UCJ-UNILORIN, Gender Mobile wrote that it intends to collaborate with the varsity’s Gender Unit and Counselling and Human Development Centre to help design and disseminate a context specific and clear policies geared towards the implementation of the campus project. It will also complement the existing internal mechanism and implementation policy framework of the institution for addressing sexual harassment.
In September 2010, the Senate of the University of Ilorin established the Unilorin Counselling and Human Development Centre (UCHDC). The centre, whose major aim is to meet the psychological needs of the members of the University community especially the students, has a unit that offers services on sexual matters. These matters include sexual harassment, rape and others. However, it still remains unclear the students’ handbook how exactly victims can confidentially — and perhaps anonymously — report cases of sexual harassment.
According to a report by Premium Times, the university handled 3 relevant cases in the last 10 years — with 2 of the incidents occurring in 2016 and the last case happened in 2019. The university set up a panel to investigate the allegations in every case it handled.
This will make victims of sexual harassment open up — UNILORIN Students’ Union
Muhammad Fatimat, the Students’ Union Vice President (PS), however, stated that only a few victims of sexual harassment try to open up, making it difficult to identify a victim. According to her, it is now a matter how far the support and protection the CampusPal Initiative wants to provide to victims and survivors will address sexual harassment. She believes sexual harassment is broad and sensitive, and hopes this initiative will make students, especially females, who fall victims to speak up to get support.
Students react, say there is need for CampusPal
Sylvia Okedi, a gender advocate and 300 Level student of the university’s department of English, Faculty of Arts, agrees that the initiative could have come sooner and there couldn’t be a more critical need for it on campus. According to her while speaking to our reporter, she can’t wait to be a user of the mobile application.
“The world has advanced and gone digital now. And that app is good because it will easily make students report cases and access safe spaces when they are sexually harassed on campus for prompt responses.”
“Also, considering the peculiarity of campus, a lot of students don’t speak up and report cases of sexual assault. This app will also bridge the distance between the victims and sexual referral centers. And help them access justice and other support services.”
For Maryam Adetona, a final-year medical student at the University of Ilorin, she believes there is a critical need for this initiative in the campus community. “It will be needed in situations where help is needed to circumvent sexual harassment incident” said the female student journalist covering women issues and sexual health.
We need to leverage and strengthen our local justice system, says senior student advocate and legal expert
For Isiaka Azeez Ayinde, a Senior Advocate of the Union (SAU) at the UNILORIN Students’ Union Bar, sexual harassment is a criminal offence that the bodies with the local, concerned and relevant jurisdictions should handle and ensure justice.
“As a legal practitioner in the Student Union Court, I can say for a fact that we can only hear and try civil and a few criminal cases concerning students as allowed within the jurisdiction we operate,” he said.
“But the issue of sexual harassment on our campus can first by entertained by the university’s Student Disciplinary Committee (SDC) and handled according to its extant laws. Afterwards, its investigations and resolutions can be heard in an appeal court. It’s until all local remedies within the jurisdiction of the school have been exercised that the involved parties can now approach the state high court for the further trial in the case of unsatisfactory verdicts. But to adequately address sexual harassment with the law, there has to be a strengthened and trusted local justice system managed by the authorities to effectively handle the cases.”
The student counsel also expressed his optimism in the Sexual Harassment Prohibition Bill in Tertiary Institutions which passed its third reading by the Nigerian Senate in July 2020. He said it will go a long way in accelerating the fight if assented to and signed into law by the President.
Our plans for CampusPal, as we set to launch — Sarah Egbo, Project Coordinator
With support from Ford Foundation, expression of interest from over 101 tertiary institutions, partnerships with key stakeholders and a large network base of campus ambassadors as bystanders across Nigeria, the “feature-rich mobile platform” is set to launch.
The Campus Pal mobile application platform is primarily designed to enable users to anonymously report and track cases of sexual harassment through its ‘report a case feature.’
With target users as students — who according to research and engagement are most vulnerable group in cases of sexual harassment — the mobile app will also provide relevant information and support such as a students’ onboarding information platform, the institution’s timetable, the user institution’s sexual harassment policy, an open forum and a safe space to promote peer to peer interaction.
According to Sarah Egbo, Gender Mobile Initiative’s Policy Support Lead and CampusPal project coordinator, Gender Mobile Initiative plans to carry out a mobile app adoption outreach in campuses across Nigeria following the launch.
“The aim of the mobile app adoption is to inform and encourage members of tertiary Institutions to key into the CampusPal app and Campus Initiative project by extension,” she added. “In the long-term, we are looking to replicate this model across countries in Africa.”