On Monday, October 7, 2019, BBC News Africa dropped a groundbreaking documentary, titled “Sex for Grades“, about sexual misconduct in 2 prominent West African Universities: the University of Lagos and the University of Ghana. The documentary included interviews of previous and current students of both universities, presented several accounts of professors from both universities sexually harassing and abusing students. These professors, like Dr. Boniface and professor Paul Kwame, often take on the role of a “benefactor” by promising female students admission or good grades. These professors hold power in many ways and are hell-bent on using their power to manipulate young and old students to think they are making a choice of their own. Students are coerced to make a decision that will affect their entire educational career. The truth of the matter is that the stories of sexual misconduct by university lecturers are not new. These stories have been told from decades to decades and generations to generations. Many daughters have walked this path but not many will speak.
Sexual harassment and sexual coercion in the African community is not just limited to our education system. As a matter of fact, these sexual misconducts are tied to power. The power that has trickled down from numerous systems to our own household. Whether we agree to it or not, men have power. Across the continent and the diaspora, men hold their power over the head of our girls, daughters, sisters, and even mothers to dehumanize them.
I have always been surprised by the number of African women, both back home and in the diaspora, that I know that have been sexually harassed by a male figure that holds a position of power in their lives. Whether it is an uncle, a family friend, a supervisor, or a mentor. What’s even more heartbreaking is the number of African women under the age of consent that has been touched inappropriately and received advances from trusted members of our community. One of the issues that I see, as a daughter who has walked this path also, is that our community is too trusting. We put trust in the power and as I said earlier, men have power over us.
I have always been a fan of “It takes a village”. I was raised by a village and plan on raising my children with a village. But I have seen the lives of daughters and sisters shattered because families have placed male figures at a higher pedestal than our girls. We have prioritized men, their feelings and their well being over our daughters that we have turned a blind eye to an epidemic that objectifies and dehumanizes our girls and women.
Not only are we ignorant of the fire that burns on the mountains we sit upon, but we have also unconsciously chosen to stand by the men who push our daughters unto this path of trajectory they have to walk by their lonesome. There are causes and effects between the obsession with old culture and religion and how to react to sexual harassment allegations in the African community that we do not talk about. Our culture tells us to respect our older men and our daughters speaking out against these acts of sexual misconduct is disrespectful. How can we be on the side of disrespect? The disrespect is not our only concern in this matter. We often push the concept of forgiveness on our daughters as we preach the words of our holy books. We suffocate our girls with half-hearted advice like “The bible says to forgive and move on” or “What has happened, has happened”. When we keep using religion and culture to shield men from being held accountable for their actions, we continue to kick our daughters to the curb and make it okay for men to continue to use and abuse them.
Shortly after the documentary was released, it was evident by the comments made by our community indicate that we do not support victims when they speak out about the abuse they go through. We are so caught up on the fact that the accused’s reputation could be affected by the possibility of the rumor being false. We fail to remember that if we deal with the bigger issue of sexual abuse and/or harrassment then we will not have the issue of false allegations.
We also see members of our community not only speaking out on how they have been abused and assaulted by men, but about how our community has normalized abuse for women. For a long time, women have lived without any power or jurisdiction over their bodies. With men holding the power, women have been shaken, beaten, and pressed.
I am an angry woman. I am an angry daughter; one who walked the lonesome path of abuse like many others. I am not angry because it happened, instead, I am angry that it has yet to stop. One day, this angry daughter will become a mother and she may have to face a daughter who felt powerless in the face of a man or have to raise a man who thinks it is okay for him to do whatever he wants to women as he pleased. While I have gotten over my voice not being heard, I will not stand the idea of the next generation of daughters, sisters, and friends walking the lonely path of betrayal.