Prof. Charles Igwe, the Vice-Chancellor (VC), University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), says the institution has zero tolerance for any form of sexual harassment and other social vices.
Igwe said this in Nsukka on Wednesday at the university’s first International Conference on Gender and Sexual Harassment, organised by Campus-Campaign Against Sexual Harassment (C-CASH) of the institution.
The programme was in collaboration with UNN Gender and Development Policy Centre (GDPC) and the Centre for Public Health (CPH) with the theme “Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Institution: Gender Concerns and Transdisciplinary Approach in the SDGs Era.”
The VC, who was represented by the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Administration, Prof. Pat Okpoko, said the university would not relent in maintaining gender equality as well as a safe learning environment devoid of sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment is a cankerworm which every one should join hands to eliminate.
“UNN under my administration has zero tolerance for any form of sexual harassment on any student or staff.
“We have gender-friendly centres in the university that handle reports on sexual harassment issues and other societal ills; the centres also give counselling.
“I encourage students and staff to take advantage of the centres and report any staff or student who harass them sexually, especially a lecturer who demands sex for exam marks,” he said.
Igwe warned students against deliberately seducing their lecturers or offering sex to them in exchange for marks.
“The university will not hesitate to punish any student found guilty of deliberately trying to seduce or offer sex for marks to lecturers,” he said.
Speaking, Prof. Anthonia Achike, the Director of GDPC, said that the aim of the conference was to fashion out ways to reduce sexual harassment in tertiary institutions in the country.
Achike said the conference was using trans-disciplinary methodology in which opinions from different areas, and practices were used to solve “this act of inhumanity.”
The director attributed low reporting of sexual harassment cases by victims to fear of victimisation, stigmatisation as well as doubt of getting redress promptly.
“The above mentioned reasons are responsible for under reporting of sexual harassment cases by victims because they believe that some who reported their own didn’t get justice as many perpetrators were not punished,” she said.
Achike expressed appreciation to the UNN Senate Council that recently approved a Sexual Harassment Policy, which would make it easy to punish staff or students found guilty of sexual harassment.
“With this policy document, there is no hiding place now for perpetrators of sexual harassment in UNN.
“We commend the university Senate for the bold step in approving the policy document which will go a long way in fighting this social ill that has eaten deep into the fabrics of the society,” he said.
Also speaking, Dr Ikechukwu Erojikwe, Convener of the conference and Director of C-CASH, said the conference was a three university collaborative project between Michigan State University US, Pretoria University, South Africa, and the UNN.
Erojikwe, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Theater Arts, UNN, said the aim was to find ways of reducing the rising cases of sexual harassment in higher institutions.
“The conference is expected to find ways, means and approaches that will bring solutions to this ugly societal ill.
“Participants and resource persons were drawn from universities within the country and outside.
“Some of the resource persons would be making their presentations virtually from different countries of the world.
“In order to drive home the message, C-CASH is using art works, drama, activism and advocacy to pass this message of sexual harassment to majority of the youths,” he said.
He commended the UNN Senate for approving the Sexual Harassment Policy for the university.
In a Keynote speech presented virtually, Chichi Okoye, Regional Director, Ford Foundation West Africa, said that it was mild to reduce the physical and psychology tortures, intimidation, shame and unwarranted attacks received by the victims of the evil perpetrators as just sexual harassment.
According to Okoye, the evil acts of the perpetrators against the victims should be called sexual violence instead of sexual harassment.
She alleged that some religious and cultural leaders had not done much or helped matters in addressing the rising cases of sexual violence in the society.
“Some religious and culture leaders do not see anything serious in sexual violence which the female gender has highest percentage of victims.
“It’s unfortunate that some religions and cultures relegate female to the background and subject widows to obnoxious widowhood practices all in the name of practising their religions and cultures,” she said.
Earlier, Prof. Joy Ezeilo, Founder, Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL), who chaired the conference, applauded the UNN VC for supporting the conference as well as his administration’s recent approval of the policy document.
Ezeilo urged victims of sexual harassment to always speak out, assuring them that WACOL and other civil society organisations are always ready to assist them to get justice by ensuring perpetrators are brought to book.
NEWS AGENCY OF NIGERIA