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C-CASH: A Creative Approach to Combat Sexual Harassment

C-CASH: A Creative Approach to Combat Sexual Harassment

Jerry Adesewo

I had a sister who was a victim of rape, and until her death, she never truly overcame the trauma of that unfortunate incident. Similarly, a coursemate once confided in me about being raped by her youth pastor during a vigil in the church. The incident shattered her life, and she disappeared, her whereabouts unknown for the past decade.

So, when I visited the University of Nigeria, Nsukka on Thursday, June 29, at the invitation of Dr. Ikechukwu Erojikwe of the Department of Theatre and Film Studies, it wasn’t just another event for me. It was a chance to support an initiative that deeply resonates with me, having been indirectly affected by sexual harassment. My goal was to lend my voice and efforts to combat this pervasive menace.

A Decade of Rising Incidents

In the last ten years, Nigeria has seen a disturbing increase in cases of sexual harassment and rape, prompting widespread outrage and demands for comprehensive reforms. Despite legislative efforts and increased public awareness, the prevalence of these crimes remains a critical issue. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics and various NGOs indicate a significant rise in reported cases. Between 2010 and 2020, the Nigeria Police Force recorded over 11,200 rape cases, though this number likely underrepresents the true scope due to the culture of silence and stigma surrounding sexual violence. The incidents involving my sister and coursemate, for instance, were never reported. High-profile cases have drawn national attention. In 2019, the rape and murder of 22-year-old Uwaila Omozuwa in a Benin City church sparked the #JusticeForUwa movement, leading to widespread protests. Similarly, Busola Dakolo’s accusation against a prominent pastor highlighted survivors’ struggles in seeking justice against powerful figures.

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In 2019, I conceived the Stand Against Rape Initiative (STAR Initiative), which, unfortunately, didn’t take off. However, civil society organizations have been pivotal in the fight against sexual violence in Nigeria. Groups like Stand to End Rape (STER) Initiative and Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF) provide support for survivors and advocate for policy changes.

Launching the Campaign at Nsukka

The C-CASH (Campus Campaign Against Sexual Harassment), led by Dr. Erojikwe and code-named “Make We Yan,” is a noteworthy initiative that uses the arts to advocate for safe environments, particularly on campuses where sex-for-grades has become a troubling norm. Collaborating with the University of Nigeria’s Gender Centre and other stakeholders, partners, and funders of the project, including Dr. Amy Johnson, Co-Director, Alliance for African Partnership, Michigan State University, and Prof. Nasima Carrim, of the University of Pretoria, C-CASH aims to raise awareness and combat sexual harassment.

Dr. Ike Erojikwe emphasised the deliberate design and operational model of C-CASH. “C-CASH is a creative initiative designed to combat the menace of sexual harassment. We are engaging students, the primary victims, to eliminate bystander apathy by raising awareness through art.”

Upon my arrival in Nsukka, I witnessed a vibrant display of arts at Freedom Square, featuring music, comedy, dance, and a visual art exhibition by students. The event underscored the importance of the issue and saw enthusiastic student participation. Artistes like MC Onachi, Goodness Nnabeze, Mr. Inya, Noble the Gusitarist, and Tochukwu Bright Ihejiekwu, the Saxophonist, all took turns to perform, and everyone signed a commitment pledge.

Friday, June 30, will remain memorable as the campaign kicked off at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, which already has a ‘Zero Tolerance Framework for Sexual Harassment.’ The day began with a courtesy visit to the Acting Vice Chancellor, represented by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Johnson Urama. The delegation included myself, Mrs. Sylvia Opinia from the World Health Organization (WHO), and Dr. Ejike Oji, a medical consultant.

Empowering Voices Against Sexual Harassment

The international conference, themed “Empowering Voices: A Community Engagement to Tackle Incidents of Sexual Harassment on University Campuses,” followed. Dr. Ejike Oji, in his presentation as Keynote Speaker, emphasised the need to “break the silence and shame surrounding sexual harassment, create a culture of respect and consent, support survivors, and hold perpetrators accountable.” Highlighting the importance of “agency,” Dr. Oji explained that it refers to an individual’s ability to make choices free from coercion, including the right to say “no” or “yes” without fear of retaliation.

Unequivocally, Dr. Oji, an alumnus of the prestigious University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), and the Founder/ Chief Executive Officer of Dr. Ejike Oji Community Development Foundation, asserted that indecent dressing is often wrongly blamed for sexual harassment. “While we encourage modest dressing, indecent dressing has nothing to do with rape. Promoting such narratives shifts the blame to victims, which must stop.”

The Public Health Perspective

Sylvia Opinia from the World Health Organisation (WHO), stressed the public health implications of sexual harassment, noting its profound physical, psychological, and emotional toll on victims. She called for urgent, comprehensive measures to address the issue and create safe environments, integrity, and accountability. “Organisations must implement and enforce clear policies against harassment, provide training for employees, and ensure that there are safe and effective reporting mechanisms in place.”

The conference, which I co-moderated with Dr. Ada Austin Okeke of the UNN, also featured other panelists like Winifred Alobo-Agogo, Rev. Father Asogwa, and Dorothy Njemanze, who emphasised the adverse health outcomes of sexual harassment, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental and physical health issues.

On Reverend Father Asogwa’s part, he highlighted the spiritual consequences of sexual harassment, and especially of rape, using as a case study, the story of a professor who once molested his student, who a couple of years later, returned as his daughter-in-law, despite his resistance. He called for fear of God as a preventive factor.

The two students on the panel, Chizoba, and Sopuruchukwu, unanimously identified fear as the greatest barrier preventing victims from reporting cases of sexual harassment. They advocated for increased awareness of the evils of sexual harassment and the measures in place by the university to combat it.

Prof. Adibe from UNN’s Gender Centre highlighted the university’s framework for reporting and addressing sexual harassment, including an anonymous whistle-blower page on the university website and a 10-member committee, including external bodies, to ensure accountability and integrity. “UNN’s Zero Tolerance towards sexual harassment is well known, and we are improving the framework regularly, to ensure that this menace is curbed,” he explained.

The Path Forward: Collaboration and Prevention

The C-CASH campaign plans to extend its efforts across Nigerian tertiary institutions, emphasising the need for greater collaboration between health sectors, governments, and communities to tackle sexual harassment comprehensively. Creating environments where individuals feel safe to come forward is essential in eradicating this menace and supporting victims’ recovery. Prevention, as they say, is better and smarter than cure. This is why public health must be treated as a public health issue.

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