“Nina Power.” A shout can be heard all across the hallways of Kenyan universities, a symbol of female empowerment against sexual abuse and harassment. It basically means “I have power” and the Kenyan students who have started the #campusmetoo movement say it is here to stay. On 19 November 2019, the University of Nairobi joined Action Aid and a group at UN Women to start a campaign aimed at addressing the pervasive problem of sexual abuse in Kenyan higher educations institutions. A huge number of female, and male, students have been sexually abused by teachers and faculty staff. In the words of the activists “This campaign aims to raise awareness of the ill vice that has plagued most students in higher learning institutions and has been the cause of hopelessness, depression and suicide among the youth.”
Patriarchal use of power structures to commit sexual abuse with absolute impunity has been seen in higher education institutions ever since they were first put in place. However, the rise and development of a strong and organized global feminist movement since 2017 has started to slowly break its chains. Ever since a number of activists from around the world started telling their stories, denouncing their abusers and raising awareness, more and more women have started to target the different institutional and power structures that have been tantamount in fostering (and covering up) these horrible practices. Unfortunately, the movement has not been equally successful all around the globe, as patriarchy has different degrees of pervasiveness according to the country, culture or degree of religious emancipation that a country has. Thus, feminism has had a much harder time to crystallize in countries like Kenya, where the culture of male domination is extremely widespread and holds a very powerful grip in almost all aspects of social and political life.
Despite all these difficulties and the fear of retaliation, these Kenyan women and men have decided to challenge this horrible status quo and launch this campaign. According to research carried out by Action Aid Kenya (with a study population of 1015 students), 49% of female and 24% of male students had been sexually harassed by a staff member in their institution. With 515,000 students enrolled at university in the East African country, the number of potential sexual abuse victims is staggering. Another added problem is that many of these students did not know what actually constitutes sexual abuse, so they had not reported it and mistook this kind of behaviour for normal social conventions. However, the movement has been successful in explaining where the limits are, and since it was launched thousands of students have come forward. It is precisely the brave work of the women who have come forward that has allowed the problem to be placed in the spotlight. Kenyan institutions should provide all means and resources for this movement so that the slow and difficult goal for equality starts to take place.
According to Cesarine Mulobi of Action Aid Kenya, “There is so much being done to fight the problem across Africa. I’ve seen a #CampusMeToo movement in Uganda, and [as a result of a BBC documentary] the Nigerian Senate reintroduced a law on sexual harassment in higher learning institutions. This is the right time for us to talk about this issue.” Although many universities in Kenya and the rest of Africa do have prevention, detection and denouncement systems in place, many have been systematically deprived of implementation mechanisms, rendering them sterile. Thus, the movement aims to not only change the culture of patriarchy, but enhance the power of women to transform the institutions that belong to the entire citizenry. In order to do so, they have forwarded the following demands: make sexual harassment a topic during induction and orientation, conduct yearly training for all staff on sexual harassment, appoint a gender officer with the obligation to facilitate training and outreach on sexual harassment, establish an investigative committee that students can approach when they have missing marks due to instances of sexual harassment, and incorporate these demands in a sexual harassment policy.
Ending patriarchal rule is one of the great challenges of a modern and global human society. Its pervasiveness and outreach has been constructed over thousands of years through the entire development and implementation of social, political and anthropological structures. However, during these last few years the world has been witnessing a transformation and women from around the globe have decided to come forwards and fight against oppression and injustice. The global feminist movement should focus on establishing mechanisms of support for women in countries like Nigeria, where women face a more brutal and complicated fight. Thus, feminism should be able to transcend ethnocentrism and slowly develop international networks of support. They key for real change is education, and that is also why Kenyan (and other African universities) should establish educational courses to slowly change macho culture in Africa. Gender equality provides the necessary social cohesion for a modern society.
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