UNBECOMING BEHAVIOUR

Sex for grades rife in Kenyan universities - Action Aid study

Lecturers are the largest perpetrators at 66% followed by service staff at 24%.

In Summary

• The Action Aid survey covered 1,015 students from among others the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta, Pioneer, Multimedia, Zetech and Daystar universities. 

• Sexual harassment includes staff telling sexual or offensive jokes or stories (21%), inappropriate comments from staff about student’s own/ someone else’s body (26%).

Assistant Director of Education Charles Obiero and Former UoN students leader Caesarin Mulobi hand over a signed petition against sexual harassment to Gender Affairs PS Safina Kwekwe
Assistant Director of Education Charles Obiero and Former UoN students leader Caesarin Mulobi hand over a signed petition against sexual harassment to Gender Affairs PS Safina Kwekwe
Image: /Charlene Malwa

One in two female students in institutions of higher learning is sexually harassed, according to a study by Action Aid Kenya. 

The ratio is one in four for male students.

The Action Aid survey covered 1,015 students from among others the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta, Pioneer, Multimedia, Zetech and Daystar universities. 

 

Lecturers are the largest perpetrators at 66 per cent, followed by service staff at 24 per cent, and management at 23 per cent.  

"Pressuring students to exchange sexual acts for favourable grades and rewards is rife throughout the region," reads a statement released to the press. 

The study was conducted between June and August this year both offline and online.

Sexual harassment includes staff telling sexual or offensive jokes or stories (21 per cent), inappropriate comments from staff about student’s own 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 (6 per cent), and persistent requests for dinner or drinks despite saying ‘No’ (16 per cent).

Globally, one in five women and one in 16 men at university level have been victims of sexual harassment.  

Due to this harassment, Kenyan university students collected signatures to support five demands they enlisted in a petition presented to Youth and Gender PS Safina Kwekwe in Nairobi yesterday.

 

The campaign, under the slogan #CampusMeToo, encourages students to break the silence on sexual harassment.

The petition demands facilitation for all newly enrolled students to watch an educational resource on sexual harassment, and making sexual harassment a topic in every induction for First Year students, annual training for all university staff on sexual harassment, and the appointment of a gender officer to provide resources and help victims.

Others include the establishment of an investigative committee that students can approach when they have received unfair or missing marks and the incorporation of the four demands into the sexual harassment policy.

PS Kwekwe told students to not only speak out but also to be provided with safe spaces to do so.

"If students stand up and they don't feel supported by universities, they will prefer to suffer in silence," she said.

The study further shows that 38 per cent of female and 33 per cent of male students think it would be unlikely that the universities will take a report of sexual harassment seriously.

They also said that the university is unlikely to protect the victim of sexual harassment or take action against a staff member who sexually harasses a student.

Kenyatta University lecturer Leah Wanjama said despite the assurance that students would be protected, lecturers got away with the vice because none of them accepted to come forward and testify.

"Universities know that the vice is happening but the problem is getting the students to stand up and say I am being harassed. Even if you tell them the VC will protect them, they are not willing to testify," Wanjama said.

Wanjama said that while the issue is not new in universities and that some students "are willing", lecturers should not to sleep with their students.

Technical University of Kenya vice-chancellor Francis Aduol said information about sexual harassment in universities is concealed.

He said that lecturers were deliberately punishing students for refusing their sexual advances.

"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 Kenyan law states that any person found guilty of sexual harassment is liable to imprisonment for not less than three years or to a fine of not less than Sh500,000.