Fighting Sexual Violence on University Campus

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Source: The Nation.

Hanna Tefera had been the director of the university gender affairs directorate at Adama Science and Technology University in Ethiopia since November 2013. She received a letter of dismissal from her post on 18th January 2018 with no explanations.

The Addis Standard reported that her dismissal was related to a case she was investigating last December. Hanna wrote a letter reporting a sexual assault against a senior female student. The letter was addressed to the president of the university requesting an inquiry into the matter.

The letter said that the student was attacked by an unidentified, armed military member- This follows the political instability in the country. The military has been deployed in universities to maintain peace. Hanna quoted provisions from the constitution and regulations of the University while condemning the crime. She insisted that for a dormitory search, it would have been appropriate to send in female soldiers. Hanna expressed her concern about the multiple cases of sexual harassment reported to her office and demanded they be addressed.

It is reported that Hanna was fired after a direct order was issued from one of the board members of the university, who is also a senior officer in the Ethiopian National Defense Forces. The indifference of the university leaders makes us question how the institution can be a safe learning environment for female students. Owing to the deeply rooted patriarchal system in Ethiopia, gender bias and sexual violence are rife.

Studies conducted in different public universities have documented the causes of sexual violence and how they interfere with learning. One study at Wolaita Sodo University reported that of the 462 female students, 36.1% had experienced sexual violence since joining the institution. 45.4% was the figure in regards to a lifetime experience. A second study, at Madalawabu University, found that of their 411 female students, 41.1% had been through sexual assault in their lifetime with 25.4% suffering in the last 12 months.

To find out why female students drop out, Jimma University conducted a study and found that 82.4% of the 108 students who had dropped out cited sexual harassment as a reason. 57.4% owed it to pregnancy. Other studies from different institutions report similar cases. Sexual violence is committed by fellow students, university employees and other people from outside the institutions.

As Hanna’s letter points out, women’s rights are enshrined in the constitution. Institutions are required to develop gender policies and organize gender affairs offices. Through strengthening student services by hiring qualified staff and providing necessary resources, institutions and the government can take measures to create a gender-neutral working environment for women all around.

It is voices like Hanna’s that will make a change in our world today. Speak up and save a life! #Rewordit

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