Sexual harassment is an unfortunate, often damaging, experience that girls and boys face daily in their school lives. Quite apart from the ultimate forced sexual act, sexual harassment includes abusive language and gestures, sexual advances, touching, passing unwanted notes, and character assassination.
The victims are often times silent sufferers, particularly when they are in the same school environment with the perpetrators. Sexual harassment harms both girls and boys physically, psychologically and emotionally. It embarrasses, humiliates and shames the victims.
Teachers, like other members of society, carry the values and attitudes of their society into the classroom. Teachers themselves are also frequently the perpetrators of sexual harassment in the schools. Yet sexual harassment has far reaching implications for the teaching and learning processes. For example, consider a girl who has just been sexually harassed by a male teacher now sitting in class taught by the same teacher. Such a girl will be traumatised and unable to concentrate on her studies. The presence of the perpetrator will bring forth anger, fear and resentment that may hinder learning.
Most education systems do not adequately address the issue of sexual harassment in teacher training. Therefore teachers do not have the necessary skills to detect and handle sexual harassment in the classroom, or even to recognise its impact on teaching and learning. In addition, in case they are the perpetrators, the teachers are not willing to stop the practice.
It is therefore important for every teacher to create a conducive classroom learning environment that is free of all forms of sexual harassment. This starts with the teachers themselves as educators exercising sexual self-control and avoiding any situation that may lead to sexual harassment.
Because of the negative attitudes and practices in the African cultural set up, such as forced marriage, abduction and considering women as sexual objects, sexual harassment is unfortunately viewed as part of normal practice and is therefore widely tolerated in schools and society in general.
Girls are particularly vulnerable, rendering them exposed to early pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV and AIDS. A teacher must therefore, be conscious and see themselves as guardians and remember that they are responsible for the pupils’ safety, welfare and wellbeing both in and outside school. He/she must, as well, make it absolutely clear that they will not tolerate such activity in their classrooms.
- With your students, identify and discuss the forms of sexual harassment that exist in your classroom. If you were aware of them, what action have you taken to eliminate them? Is there any other action you can take now?
- Do you know any speciﬁc steps teachers can take to control themselves from sexually harassing their students?
- Does the school have any rules, regulations, policies or guidelines related to the control of sexual harassment? How many times have these rules been enforced in your school in the last six months?
- Discuss with the students what kind of socio- cultural practices foster sexual harassment in the community surrounding your