• An ActionAid survey conducted last year showed that one in two university female students and one in four male students is sexually harassed.
• Education ministry yet to respond to a petition signed by 11,000 students against sexual harassment for grades in universities.
Leah (not her real name) recalls with horror the day she fought her way out of a lecturer's office after he grabbed her and tried to forcefully kiss her.
The Kenyatta University student had delayed submitting her online assignment and had gone to inquire if the lecturer could accept a hard copy.
Leah recounted her ordeal during an ActionAid Kenya survey on sexual harassment of students on Kenyan university campuses last year.
"He told me it was okay, so I rushed to his office to submit it. He locked the door after I entered and started telling me how beautiful I was.
"I said 'thank you' and wanted to leave, but he said he wanted to have sex with me and I said no," she said.
The man walked up to her and pinned her against the wall and tried to forcefully kiss her despite her threat that she would scream.
After a few minutes' struggle, Leah started screaming and he quickly let go off her. "I pushed him so hard that he fell and I opened the door and rushed out," she said.
Purity, another KU student whose real name we have concealed, started getting unsolicited texts from a lecturer. He promised to help her pass examinations if she complied with his demands.
"We write our phone numbers on our CAT papers. The lecturer got my contact from my paper, texted me saying how beautiful I am and that he loves my body," Purity said.
He added that he would ensure that I pass if I am willing to be his. "I did not reply."
The following day, the lecturer was invigilating a test she was sitting and he requested to see her after the test.
"Hi beautiful," he said, "see me after the CAT." Purity did not go. "I don't know what will happen since I did not go. I am sure I will not pass the unit," she said.
The June-August 2019 ActionAid Kenya survey shows that one in two female students and one in four male students in institutions of higher learning is sexually harassed.
It flags lecturers as the largest perpetrators at 66 per cent, followed by service staff at 24 per cent and management at 23 per cent.
Sexual harassment includes staff telling sexual or offensive jokes or stories (21 per cent), inappropriate comments from staff about a student’s or someone else’s body (26 per cent), and receiving unwanted sexual and/or offensive content from staff via phone and social media (11 per cent).
The others are unwanted physical contact and approaches (six per cent), and persistent requests for dinner or drinks despite saying ‘No’ (16 per cent).
A petition signed by 11,000 students to hold universities accountable for preventing sexual harassment was handed over to the Education ministry in December.
The petitioners demanded that universities facilitate new students sexual harassment education, train staff on sexual harassment yearly and appoint a gender officer to facilitate the implementation of policies against sexual harassment.
Project officer Macrine Ondigo told the Star that the Ministry of Education is yet to respond or comment on the issue.
"In February 2020, we held a successful meeting with the management of Technical University of Kenya in regard to the implementation of the petitioners' five demands.
"TUK, alongside KU and University of Nairobi will pilot the implementation of the demands. The same will be replicated in other institutions of higher learning in Kenya," Ondigo said.
TUK Vice-Chancellor Francis Aduol said information about sexual harassment in universities is concealed.
“We are having so many cases of missing marks but it never occurred to me some of them are because of sexual harassment,” Aduol said, adding that Kenya needs to find a way to escalate the issue of sexual harassment to Parliament.
The ActionAid survey covered 1,015 students from UoN, KU, Pioneer, Multimedia, Zetech and Daystar universities. It identified first and second-year students, gender non-conformity students and financially vulnerable students as the most affected.
“Pressuring students to exchange sexual acts for favourable grades and rewards is rife throughout the region,” a press statement said.
ActionAid, in partnership with UN Women, also launched an anti-sexual harassment campaign under hashtag #CampusMeToo at the UoN.
“Sexual harassment targeted at students in higher learning institutions in Kenya is a deeply ingrained issue.
"It continues to undermine human rights and unfairly deprives the youth of Kenya a safe environment in which they can thrive, innovate and contribute positively to their personal and educational development,” they said.
- mwaniki fm