The university, generally speaking, being an institution of higher learning, is a delightful society to be part of given, its perks and promises: dynamism, acceptance, equal opportunities, maturity, refinement and fairness. It is thus quite upsetting when in a society that promises the above jollies, one is sourly made subject to barefaced discrimination and disrespect for one’s person, especially when the discrimination in question has to do with one’s sex.
This is a friend’s lived experience she hopes will begin a conversation on respect for the dignity of persons, female students in particular, on Ghanaian university campuses.
“The Akan name for vagina is a hard thing to say
Wish I could say it out loud but I can’t.
But that’s what the boys called me
Most of them probably younger than me;
Boys who could be my brothers
That’s the name they yelled at me when my feet touched the paved forecourt of the Commonwealth Hall.
I had been reduced to a body part;
all of me-
my ambitions, my fears, my dreams, my hopes; my mind.
I was a body part; a part unworthy of honour
Obvious from the way they spat out the name.
And my crime?
I had trampled on their manly shrine, entered their holy ground with all of my femininity.
Normally, I’d pause and question: What gave them the audacity to block off a piece of this communal earth with the illusory barricade of jeers and vulgarity?
But that Thursday evening I had little energy left in me to be incensed.
I wasn’t intimidated by them or their cat-calls. I blamed our society for their actions.
Why blame those boys?
They were only victims of a system that insisted on drawing sharp divisions between superior and inferior, between man and woman.
I was especially not surprised that the “dignified” alumni looked on as filthy name after filthy name was thrown at me.
They were “big men”. These politicians, lawyers, educators; yet they needed the balm of my shame to stroke their manhoods.
So, I ignored them, and kept on walking. Call me names; reduce me to whatever suits you.
I will just keep on walking.”
Most female students on university campuses have at a certain point in time encountered such harassment and denigration from their male counterparts but that’s not the sad part yet. The sad part is that such an experience is deemed “okay”, “normal”, “an ordinary part of university life.” How is it normal and how is it okay to shake another’s confidence, to trample on another’s dignity, to treat another like a thing because they are ill-positioned to retort, to defend themselves? To what end? Simply because it flatters your sick ego?
It is interesting that male students visiting female hostels or passing through them do not encounter the same confrontations. Clearly, there’s a problem if this happens in universities where persons are supposed to be educated, cultured and refined. No amount of normalcy or fun justifies the harassment and disrespect of another. And all who enjoy, engage in or promote such actions ought to be ashamed of themselves and be made to feel that shame. They should be held reprehensible for their actions. The harassment of female students on university campuses must be brought to a stop. To say the least, it is disruptive, it is abusive and it is clearly unacceptable.