NGO tasks NASS on sexual harassment legislation

An NGO, Gender Mobile Initiative (GMI), has called for the passage of the Sexual Harassment Prohibition Bill currently in the National Assembly.

It said this would address the sexual abuse cases wreaking havoc in the country’s institutions of learning.

Ms Omowumi Ogunrotimi, Executive Director, GMI made the plea in Abuja at a national dialogue on sexual harassment in Nigerian tertiary institutions.

The dialogue was organised in collaboration with the Ford Foundation.

Ogunrotimi said that sexual harassment had assumed critical dimension in recent times with the “BBC African Eye” video that came out, and as such concerted efforts including the Anti-sexual harassment laws were needed to tackle the menace.

“Sexual harassment has become a pandemic that shouldn’t be addressed on the margin; we need to beam the light and address it holistically.

“At the moment we have the sexual harassment prohibition bill that has been revisited in the NASS.

“Some time ago when it was introduced, it was met with stiff resistance because it had some existing gaps in terms of scope, and recently on the sideline of sex for grade video done by BBC, we have the NASS revisit this.

“This piece of legislation will address issues bothering on sexual harassment. However, our policy will do more around implementation; we treat this issue regardless of sex and gender.

“We visited the office of the Deputy Senate President and we are working together to ensure the bill revisited is more robust and more encompassing.

“But at our own level, you will see that this dialogue has brought together stakeholders from ICPC because of the dimension of abuse of power and Human Rights Commission since the issue of sexual harassment is a human right issue,” Ogunrotimi said.

According to her, GMI is already in partnership with over 100 tertiary institutions on having a policy and a platform that will help students store up evidence and report cases anonymously.

She said a mobile app would be introduced in February to enable victims of sexual harassment report their case.

“Sexual harassment report mobile app will be out in two months, the process is ongoing; we currently conducted a survey across institutions of learning in Nigeria for us to get the sense of basic features that should be contained in the app.

“We are in the process already. The development has started and I can assure you that in the next two months this mobile app will be adopted across the board in institutions of higher learning in Nigeria and this mobile app will really go a long way in solving this problem.

“For students who don’t report cases because they don’t feel safe entering a facility to see a lecturer or to see a member of a committee that might not believe her or him, there is still space on the platform where you will report this cases and store up evidence.

“Even if it happened today and you are not comfortable about speaking about it yet, you can still store up documentary evidence until when you are comfortable to speak about it.

“So, this mobile app is a pragmatic approach on our part and we understand that technology has really gone a long way in making life easier. So, we hope that with the app and the policy, sexual harassment will be nipped in the bud very soon,” she added.

Also speaking, Dr Bernard Jemilohun, Dean, Faculty of Law, Elizade University, Ondo State said it was high time the National Universities Commission (NUC) began to issue accreditations to universities based on anti-sexual policies they have.

“There is a need for the NUC as a national regulatory body of Nigerian Universities to mandate universities to have policies against this menace.

“We have run a system for so long where all that is required before an academic is employed is his mental prowess, we did not look at moral capabilities; we don’t do a background check.

“What brought NUC dimension is the fact that I feel the NUC should compel universities to have definite policies against sexual harassment.

“The policy should hold everybody accountable and should not victimize the victims again for reporting.

“Apart from the fact that over the years this matter has been side-stepped, it does appear there is a conspiracy of men against women in this matter.

“We must have a shift of mindset and begin to see the dangers and damaging consequences of sexual harassment and devise a means and a way forward from this situation,” Jemilohun said.

News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that there were breakout sessions on the theme of the dialogue for robust contributions and suggestions on way forward. (NAN)

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