Gender-based corruption, including sex for grades practices, is widespread in higher education institutions in Rwanda and efforts to end the abuse should include public awareness campaigns and transparent internal mechanisms to deal with cases, according to a report by Transparency International Rwanda (TI-RW), a corruption watchdog.
According to the report, the level of gender-based corruption in higher education stood at 42.6%, the second-highest after the private sector, where the level was indicated as 57.3%. A total of 1,200 respondents across various sectors, including higher education, local government, hospitals, ministries and parliament participated in a survey about the problem.
Sex for grades
TI-RW stated that sexual harassment, exploitation and the use of sex as a form of payment are some of the specifically gendered forms of corruption.
“Gender-based corruption is, therefore, when someone is demanding favours of a sexual nature in exchange for a service,” according to TI-RW.
According to its report, released in September, some female students are asked for sexual favours in exchange for marks and they are often subjected to gender-based corruption when writing their dissertations.
Some supervisors, according to the report, delay students’ work in order to be able to personally meet with female students and, when they meet, lecturers request sex, and only a few female students refuse.
The report revealed that sexual harassment in the workplace and in universities is still prevalent and includes sexually suggestive language, sexual extortion by superiors and pressure to perform sexual favours in return for promotions and opportunities.
According to Albert Rwego Kavatiri, the TI-RW programme manager, universities should organise campaigns that specifically target these institutions and sensitise them to put in place internal mechanisms that promote integrity and values.
He said that reporting sexual harassment was still at low levels because 33.7% of the respondents – just over a third of the respondents – said they feared reprisal and other consequences, 27.40% believed they lacked sufficient evidence [to report incidents] while 22.2% think that reporting gender-based corruption would change nothing.
In addition, 12.6% of respondents said they did not know where to report cases of harassment and exploitation while 6.1% said they took it as normal or acceptance behaviours, according to the report.
Appolinaire Mupiganyi, the executive director of TI-RW, said that sexual harassment has become a serious problem across society’s sectors.
What the HE sector is doing
According to Dr Rose Mukankomeje, the executive director of the Rwandan Higher Education Council, the council could meet higher learning institutions and Transparency International Rwanda to discuss the findings and to work together to find solutions to halt abuse.
She urged victims of gender-based corruption to speak out and to report cases to the Rwanda Investigation Bureau. According to the bureau, about 29 cases of sexual-based corruption and harassment from universities were received over the past three to five years.
Mukankomeje also insisted that students needed training on how to identify and tackle forms of sexually-based corruption.
Universities have been aware of sex for grades practices and other forms of harassment and efforts have been put in place to stop the abuse.
At the University of Rwanda, an anti-corruption policy was developed and shared across all its colleges.
The university and college management constitute the anti-corruption committee and attend to complaints filed by the victims.
The university’s anti-corruption committee encourages reporting, whether by writing anonymously or by contacting the committee via a toll-free number or e-mails, all ensuring confidentiality.
According to the anti-corruption policy seen by University World News, the institution is set on fighting sexual harassment and sexual exploitation with all available means.
“The university will keep strengthening the capacity of students and staff to resist sexually-based corruption and other forms of corruption by ensuring timely reporting,” reads the policy, initiated in 2017.