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SPECIAL SESSION ON GENDER AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT

As part of the 2018 college of humanities conference held at the University of Ghana campus, a special session on gender and sexual harassment was put in place with the aim at informing participants about the University of Ghana policy on sexual harassment and to throw light on how far the University have come with its implementation. The session which took place on the 2nd of November, 2018 was to also afford students an opportunity to share their experiences on sexual harassment issues on campus and to solicit opinions from participants on the best way forward. The session actually was organized by the Center for Gender Studies and Advocacy (CEGENSA) and chaired by Dr. Charlotte Wrigley-Asante.

The committee on sexual harassment and their experience so far

According to Dr. Amoakohene, the head of the sexual harassment committee at the University of Ghana, the policy i.e. University of Ghana policy on sexual harassment was introduced in 2011 and until its introduction there was no sexual harassment policy in the University. According to her, the introduction of the policy was to guide behaviour towards others and make people comfortable in the University. Further, the policy was to make people aware of the stance of the University on sexual harassment and the sanctions that will be applied if members are found culpable. The committee according to her has the mandate to investigate sexual harassment cases and report to the Vice-Chancellor for the necessary sanctions to be applied. She also indicated that the policy is subject to review every five years and in 2016 there have been revision made to the policy. A major review that seems to have been made to the policy was the redefinition of their scope to include not just sexual harassment but sexual misconduct. This review according to her was necessary since most of the cases coming forward were cases of misconduct.

The secretary of the committee who was also part of the panel provided further insight on the experience of the committee so far and what the committee intend to do in the coming years. According to the secretary, one of the key activities they have been embarking on is education and sensitization. This according to her is done during freshers’ orientations and Hall week celebrations. Additionally, she indicated that the committee as part of its role is trying to offer protection for victims so that they are not stigmatized and victimized after they have made a complaint. She revealed that in the course of their work they encountered some difficulties which include (1) discontinuance of cases due to interference from family and friends of victims (victims no longer interested in pursuing case) (2) compensations paid to victims which lead to a lack of interest on the part of the victim (3) difficulty in delineating what the misconduct is especially when perpetrator and victim are in a consented relationship. She said that going forward, the committee intends to pursue such measures as (1) get a place where victims can walk comfortable to, so that they can make their complaints and (2) focusing on prevention through media campaigns.

Voices from Students

Two students from both genders shared insights with the participants and the panel on the experience of students with regards to sexual harassment on campus. The first student presenter who was a female indicated that many students do not know what constitute sexual harassment and thus most incidences go unreported. The naivety of most students according to her stems from lack of student awareness of the policy. She also shared some experiences on sexual harassment and noted that the dynamics is changing and now we have incidences were perpetrators were security man and students. She further noted that the current security arrangement on campus is very porous and allows people to enter the University, making the security situation on campus problematic. The second student presenter who was a male also pointed out that on a number of occasions males have also been at the receiving end of sexual harassment. He recounted various incidences where male students have been harassed by their female counterpart in an attempt to get the attention of the male victim and make them (male victims) aware about their intention to have a romantic relationship with them. He proposed that the committee should include students on the committee and matters or cases brought to the committee should be treated with all confidentiality to avoid stigmatization and public ridicule of students.

Expert opinion on the matter

Dr Angela Dwamena Aboagye, the guest at the session threw some light on the political and legal dimension of sexual harassment. She highlighted a number of issues relating to sexual harassment (1) that there is a power dimension to the issue, because in most cases the perpetrator is powerful and takes advantage of that to perpetrate the act (2) it is a human right issue, because it violates the human dignity and statutory provision on human right (3) it also falls under the jurisdiction of laws of the state (3) falls under indecent assault and (5) under the Ghanaian labour laws there is a provision on sexual harassment, but there are no legal procedures to guide it.