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D uring her first few days at the University of Liberia , a male student asked Famata Adrekis if she was taking the "Sex " class. The practice is often referred to as "transactional sex" — sex for grades — and it's common not only in Liberian universities but also throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Some women said they were forced to keep repeating classes if they refused to have sex with their male lecturers. If a woman reported her lecturer and he was sacked, the teacher would often simply move to another institution, the survey revealed.
Adrekis is now involved in setting up a women's forum at her university. The forum will provide a safe space to report incidents, find support and lobby the university's student affairs office to take action against perpetrators. The forum will also seek to educate men about a woman's right not to be harassed. The forum met for the first time in February, following weeks of leaflet drops and awareness-raising among students.
Aside from sex for grades, women interviewed by ActionAid spoke of routine harassment from male teachers including whistling, catcalling, and unwanted language and touching. They were often blamed for violence committed against them because of the way they dress. Poor campus facilities, such as a lack of lighting at night — despite late classes — made women feel unsafe at university. I am more at risk leaving university at that time, but it's seen as my problem, not the university's," Amanda Doteh, another member of the forum steering committee, told the Guardian.
Doteh recently graduated with a degree in social work from the University of Liberia, a state-run institution in the capital, Monrovia, that has a high proportion of students from poor backgrounds. The teacher is in a good position. Schools are not willing to let go of teachers for one of their students. Teachers have the advantage. We have to engage government and university authorities to ensure they put policies in place to protect women in school.
But change will be far from easy. Sexual harassment of young women and girls in education is common throughout sub-Saharan Africa. An ActionAid report, Destined to fail? Studies conducted in by the UK's Department for International Development in Zimbabwe, Ghana and Malawi found girls were routinely subject to sexual harassment and violence from male teachers and students as well as "sugar daddies" — older men who target girls and women with gifts and money in exchange for sex.