Female university students are mobilising to change a culture where academic success is often dependent on sexual favours. Liz Ford meets them
During her first few days at the University of Liberia, a male student asked Famata Adrekis if she was taking the "Sex 101" class. "I said: 'What do you mean?' I was shocked," says the fourth-year sociology student.
"Sex 101" was a reference to the expectation that female students will have sex with their male lecturers to get good grades or pass their degree courses. 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.
A 2011 survey conducted by ActionAid in three Liberian universities found that about 85% of female students had been sexually harassed or involved in transactional sex while they studied. 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.
"I'm trying to organise a women's forum so people are able to speak out," Adrekis said at a meeting of the forum's steering committee in Monrovia last month. "We will be talking to students about the issues affecting women at university and what is the way forward."...