27 November 2012

Lesotho: Sexual Harassment a Reality in Universities


Maseru, 28 November: I will never forget the excitement I had of going to university and enrolling for an accounting degree. Little did I know that there would be more challenges in an institution of higher learning.

I am currently a student at the University of Lesotho. I am an only child from Leribe. My grandmother raised me. Growing up, I had to balance selling fruits to raise school fees and studying. After the market, I prepared meals for my grandmother and I.

I am a very intelligent and beautiful young woman aged 25.

It all started in my second year of study. Now I'm in fourth year.

The challenge came in the form of a good-looking young lecturer with an attractive smile.

The lecturer is married to a beautiful and respected woman. They have two children. He is well known for proposing to young women.

If he approaches you and you refuse to get into a relationship with him, he will fail you and you have to repeat his course for the whole year.

I respected the lecturer and somehow, I feared him. I never asked any questions in class even if I had any, let alone go to his office to seek clarification on something that I didn't understand. In fact, I avoided him

My fellow students noticed something unusual about my conduct with the lecturer. They complained about how he looked at me. When I did not go for lecturers, he always demanded an explanation as to why I had not attended his class. My colleagues asked why he gave me so much attention and I would quickly change the topic.

One afternoon towards the end of his lecture, the lecturer called me by my name. How did he even know my name? There were many students in that class. I looked up and he told me to ask a question. I didn't have any question but he demanded that I ask at least one question, after all, he said, I always passed more than others. He asked me to follow him to his office after his lecture and explain to him why I never had questions but passed. He said maybe I copied.

I didn't follow his orders and in his next lecture with our class, he could not hide his anger. He made several examples about me and told other students that he did not intend to do anything to me.

The time for the class test approached and we all wrote the test. I failed the test but I did not go to him to complain. The second test came and I failed again. I could not stand it so I went straight to his office and complained.

Instead of hearing me out, he laughed my concerns off and he said that he would treat me like any other student. He bragged that he knew I would knock on his office door with a query.

I cried to him because I knew that I had not failed the test. His intentions for failing me finally came out.

He said that I must be his girlfriend and sleep with him if I wanted to pass my tests and examinations.

I told him that I do not date married people but he laughed at me and asked me to leave his office. Clearly, he said, I did not know what I wanted. I left the office in shock and angry with tears in my eyes.

Failure to sleep with the lecturer meant that I had to repeat the whole year.

I had to raise the money to pay for my school fees and therefore had to stay a year at home. I repeated the course, passed and proceeded to third year of study. I just prayed and hoped that the lecturer had given up and forgotten all about me but he had not.

Some students commit suicide due to sexual harassment in institutions of higher learning. I remained strong, assured myself that I'm a hard worker, and did not have to engage in a sexual relationship with a lecturer in order to get marks.

In third year, my school performance somehow dropped because my grandmother's health had deteriorated. My parents did not help in any way as they have never been part of my life and never cared about investing in my education. I do not have a relationship with them.

I met my lecturer again and he failed me my first test. I did not complain as he thought I would. He realised that he would not win the battle with me. I passed my third year, I'm now in fourth year and still excelling.

Sebolelo Lerata is a student at National University of Lesotho. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender Violence.

Copyright © 2012 Gender Links. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.