The Director General, National Centre for Women Development, Barrister Mary Ekpere-Ita has hailed the Senate for the passage of the Sexual Harassment Prevention Bill into law, describing the action as a “poignant moment in push for women empowerment”.
Reacting to the passage of the Bill by the Senate, Mrs. Ekpere-Eta expressed happiness that women voices were heard on the law, which criminalises sexual harassment of female students in tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
Ekpere-Eta also praised the sponsor of the Bill in the Senate even as she called on the House of Representatives to expedite action and concur with the Senate to enable President Muhammadu Buhari assent the Bill within the shortest time possible.
“I, like other critical stakeholders attended the public hearing on this important law. I am glad that our voices were heard, as we fully supported the Bill which will act a legal frame work for protecting female students from unprofessional lecturers who practice and promote the dehumanizing culture of sex-for-grades.
“I commend the Senate and the sponsor of the Bill, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege for spearheading this pivotal law. I call on the House of Representatives to pass the Bill on time in order for President Muhammadu Buhari to sign into law in the nearest future,” she said.
Ekpere-Eta noted that Nigerian girls and women face different challenges in their quest for education, adding that there are places in the country where girls are overlooked while poor families are compelled to pick the children who will be sponsored in school.
“We have stories of girls dropping out of school because they or other girls they know are raped in footpaths that lead to their schools. We also have girls who are married off at a young age to save money in their homes. It is girls who are sent out to hawk wares to augment their family’s income despite the fact that their exposed to danger.
“It is gratifying that after women, some of whom face the above challenges to make it into tertiary institutions will not have to contend with lecturers who harass them for sex, as a condition for passing their exams.
“I also commend the National Assembly on its plan to host a public hearing on Sexual and Gender Based Violence for which it appointed the women’s legislative hero, Sen. Ovie Omo-Agege and another strong supporter of women’s rights, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila,” said Mrs. Ekpere-Eta.
She expressed the believe that issues of rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment will be discussed at the forum “with the goal of developing legislative instruments to curb the spike in sexual assault, as well as lead the call for states to domesticate other laws that protect women such as the Child’s Right Act and the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act.”
The Bill against sexual harassment in tertiary institutions passed by the Senate on Tuesday prohibits the offense of sexual harassment of students in tertiary institutions and criminalizes the act of neglect or failure of administrative heads of tertiary education institutions to address complaints of sexual harassment within a specified period of time.
The legislation also creates strict liability offences by removing mutual consent as a defense in the prosecution of sexual harassment cases in tertiary educational institutions and maintains the fiduciary relationship that exists between educators and students.
It stipulates that any person who commits the offences of sexual harassment of students listed under the Bill shall in conviction be sentenced to imprisonment for 14 years or a fine of N5million or both.