November 21, 2020
Moving to Ghana impressed me on the importance of education. We are obsessed with education. We are obsessed with titles and status and degrees and certificates. Education is a powerful key that opens many great doors and, as a result, vulnerable people are often conditioned to do anything for it.
And that may mean cheating, paying, faking documents and dealing with sexual advances, if necessary.
The BBC Expose “Sex for Grades” sounds like big news because its on the big global screen. It is heart-wrenching, depressing and deeply embarrassing to see your dirty secret hanging out on the line. But it is not new news. Today, I am angry and yet strangely relieved, because now we are being forced to talk, explain and figure out how to clean up this mess.
Of course, the Power, Abuse, Sex combo is not limited to Ghana or Nigeria or Africa. The #MeToo movement has proved that.What the Expose explores is a particular issue with education in Ghana/Nigeria – because education is still elitist. The gatekeepers to education are powerful. The majority use their power to inspire and empower, but some dragon-like gatekeepers, unfortunately, insist on using their power to abuse. Abuse can range from torturous mental games, mean words disguised as humor or awkward suggestive touching, to dirty sexual favors.
One of the young ladies who inspired the formation of The Pearl Safe Haven lost the competitive National Service position she had received on merit because she refused to comply with sexual advances from her boss. Her decision inspires me; she is still paying the price of a delayed career trajectory but has not lost her mind. Making that decision was/is brave – but not easy for many young women, especially when they feel like the odds are stacked against them. When you’ve written the same entrance exam 3 times or continue to struggle to pay your tuition fees, you can become vulnerable.
We are “collectivist” people and shame is a shared experience. Sometimes it’s easier not to speak in order to protect the people we love. Sometimes silence is cheaper than speaking out because the system often protects the abuser at the expense of the survivor. When a woman dares to speak, they are often not believed and shamed. Truth is a costly decision.
This is why at the Pearl Safe Haven, we insist on speaking out against silence and shame. Already people are defending the lecturers. Sad. If 1 in 3 women is a survivor of a form of abuse then 1 in 3 men is… do the math.
It is unfortunate that the prestigious University of Lagos and the University of Ghana (Legon) have had their reputations dragged through the mud due to the insatiable sexual appetites of a few power-hungry rogues. But the truth needs to be told and the truth is that there are not enough systems in place to protect young people pursuing their passions. Young women don’t know where to go and who to trust when abuse occurs. There are not enough of us saying “We believe you and we stand with you”. And there are not enough perpetrators in jail. This is not limited to universities alone – we are seeing failed systems in high-schools, religious communities, companies, the public sector and in the legal system. Power, Abuse, Sex is a sickening cycle that needs to be exposed.
I am grateful that the BBC Africa Expose has given new breathe to the concerns many advocacy groups (Obaapa Development, WISE, Wildaf, Ark Foundation, and others) have raised for years in Ghana. Let’s hope it’s not just for today’s front pages and forgotten tomorrow.
To the brave women who chose to come forward – thank you. We believe you and we stand with you.
#NoSilence #NoShame #LovedoesnotHit #LovedoesnotHurt #WeStandwithYou
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