30th August 2023
WASHINGTON, DC: On Monday, 14 August 2023, female students of the Faculty of Law at the University of Calabar in Nigeria, with some of their male colleagues, protested against gender-based exploitation and harassment in their department by their Dean of Law, Prof. Cyril Ndifon.
Professor Ndifon was previously accused of sexual misconduct in 2015. The school authority subsequently suspended him after he was alleged to have raped a 20-year-old law student in his office. Eventually, his suspension was lifted under mysterious circumstances.
In other African universities, sexual harassment and misconduct by male faculty and sometimes male students are rampant. There have been several cases of sexually predatory behavior reported by female students at Makerere University in Uganda, the Rhodes University in South Africa, the Kaduna State University, the University of Lagos and the University of Port-Harcourt in Nigeria, just to name a few.
In most cases, victims are afraid to speak up because society insults and tags them as enemies of progress of men of “reputable” standing. Over the years, social media has helped some of these cases come to light. But many more cases have been buried for fear of being doubted, insulted or humiliated.
At the Institute for African Women in Law, we are committed to ensuring that the rights of women in law of all ages are fully respected and protected. We commend the action taken by the law students at the University of Calabar and urge the university to take stronger action this time. We call for an immediate and thorough investigation into the allegations and an open and transparent review process of the circumstances surrounding them. We also call on governments, policymakers and stakeholders to ensure institutions operate with the necessary sexual harassment policies to check the prevalence of Gender Based Sexual Violence.
In our four-country Women in Law and Leadership reports, we highlighted that sexual harassment, both covert and overt, is one of the main challenges women in law at the bench, bar and legal academy face in their professions. It is, therefore, disturbing that even the educational institutions meant to provide an ideal environment for learning and growth, especially in the faculty of law, have harbored this menace for years. The effect such acts have on students should be taken into consideration to appreciate the importance of addressing the issue. Some students go on to do well, but some fail their courses unjustly, preventing them from graduating and realizing their full potential in the careers they desire to pursue.
It is high time that we all take action to protect the rights, safety, progress and future of African women in law. We encourage victims of sexual harassment in universities and legal institutions not to be afraid of intimidation and backlash and to speak up against the injustice meted out to them.
It is our expectation that such action will eventually restore faith in our educational and legal institutions and create a safe environment for women in law.