Education as a Vaccine asked female students to share what it is like, navigating tertiary institutions as adolescent girls and young women. Here are some responses we got.
Here in Usmanu Danfodio University, being a female student has two sides. Depending on the situation, female students can be respected or disrespected at the same time. You face harassment and condemnation about what you wear, whether it is decent or not because here in my university they feel what a female student wears reflects her character. The school management has also made billboards that teach the value of dressing decently, as a popular adage says “The way you dress, shows the way you’ll be addressed.”
Like most tertiary institutions, my school also faces the major problem of lecturers abusing their power when approaching female students. When a student is approached by her course lecturer and she turns down the advances, the result more often than not reflects on her CGPA. Some lecturers even go as far as asking students to have sex for marks. This issue is increasingly being checkmated though which I am impressed about.
Being a female student in Usmanu Danfodio is not all bad though as we still enjoy some preferential treatment. In my school, female students are allowed to decide on what other activities they want to get involved in aside from school activities, we are also allowed to join any press club of our choice which I have benefitted a lot from. I am a member of the press club, a club that has the best interest of the girl child at heart and I have benefitted immensely from my time here, gathering exposure along the way.
Of all things in this school, I hate the female hostel life the most, as a female student, we need adequate sanitary and living conditions to thrive, but that is not the case we find ourselves in. Congested rooms, hostel space problems and even bunk problems, some people even still bring the bullying mentality to school which I find irritating.
Aside this problem, the security system of the hostels is extremely poor, we are constantly entertaining stealing cases by men staying in the nearby villages of the school called ‘cartol’ and we are not strong enough to fight or go after the thief. On our way to night classes, we get attacked by ‘Yaro’ boys who steal our properties and walk around our hostels even selling our wares back to us. It is one of the major problems we face in Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto and other Northern Institutions.
To cap it all, being a female student has always been a pleasure and is amazingly awesome. I will always put in my best to continue bringing up this country, as our heroines before us did.
There was once a time when the birth of a girl child was seen as an ill omen in a household. The disappointment was usually taken out on the mother and her daughter by denying them required amenities such as food and sometimes even housing. Training a girl child in school was often seen as a waste back then.
The tides have changed now though, the birth of a girl child is now also seen as a blessing and we are now allowed to seek learning in institutions of higher learning. It is still not easy as a female going to school because of so many challenges such as hormonal changes, girls social problems, early/late marriage issues, security and even choosing a career as a girl. As if this is not enough, we still face threats of sexual harassment from lecturers and even fellow male students who sometimes resort to some evil means to get what they want, such as rape. To add to this, the girl is still blamed for the act at the end of the day with questions rising like “what was she doing on the road at that time of the night? How was she dressed?”
Being a girl child is one of the most herculean tasks of the ages as you are always seen as inferior to your male counterparts who have been taught about their superiority from the time that they are conceived, people always tend to sideline the saying “train a boy and you’ve trained a person but train a woman and you’ve trained a nation” among others.
Despite the challenges, I don’t feel deprived being a female in a higher institution as I think the main objective is to achieve all-round success at the end.
Being female has always brought unwanted attention from all fronts and as an introvert, I have never been quite comfortable with the unnecessary attention I’ve been getting at my university. Being a female student in my tertiary institution has not been easy, I have faced so many challenges and I am currently still facing them, psychologically, emotionally and even physically.
I have encountered so many dangers in school and as a result, I have developed this feeling of insecurity because you don’t know when or where the danger might strike. Sexual harassment, cases of rapes, and so many other dangers face female students in tertiary institutions. We have to be extra careful of the company we keep and how we move around in school because unlike the opposite gender, being reckless can be more damaging for us. I am always scared of being alone in unfamiliar places or places where I do not have someone looking out for me.
Except steps are taken to make tertiary institutions more secure for the girl child, female students will continue to have feelings of insecurity and fear wherever they go; scared of what would happen next and if she would be able to overcome it
I started my journey from very humble beginnings and had no hope of getting a formal education because I am a girl. Due to our lack of funds, the need to send me to school was not high, I found myself in the university through a lot of hard work and self-denial.
Gaining admission was not an issue since there were so many slots available that were willing to admit me based on merit. The major goal was sustaining myself and graduating with flying colours as a girl amid male student reps and lecturers.
My course representative was male and my core course lecturers were male too. The few female lecturers I had the opportunity to cross paths with took elective courses. In an environment where both administrative and disciplinary offices are headed by the male folk, there is no one to understand my plight when I make reports because it is beyond human nature for a man to put himself in the shoes of a woman.
One day, my course representative asked me out and I refused. He told me I was risking the goodness I should have received from him in the nearest future. The first shock I got was when he denied any knowledge of me paying for a lecturer’s textbook through him. My mind recalled the subtle threat he made and I immediately knew I was paying for refusing his advances. Soon, he called and notified me that one of my lecturers demanded seeing me. With all enthusiasm I honoured the invitation in his office, the meeting was on how he had found a way for things to fall in place for me but I had to pay the price with my body. I was ready to pay anything but not my body.
Disappointed, I dashed out of his office furious, he termed my walking out as disrespect to him. There was nobody but my fellow female students who were already academically ahead of me to share my pains with. The advice I got from these friends of mine was to dance to the lecturer’s tune. In their words, “use what you have to get what you need”.
I approached my female lecturers who by my assessment are mothers and in the position to help or defend me, but shockingly, they told me in different manners how they are also passing through similar situations. Some of them have already given in just to save their careers while others who could not lower their standards have remained stagnant in the lecturing field. I was utterly confused about the next step to take.
By the end of the semester I had already failed three of seven courses owing to missing scripts, not paying for textbooks, (as alleged by my course representative) and poor performance. When I challenged the missing scripts and poor performance, I was asked to forward my claims to the disciplinary committee where there is no female presence. I was already traumatized knowing fully well this frustration was gender-based.
My four-year course has now taken me six years. Not because I am not intelligent, but because I am female.
“This is a male department, women have nothing to do with Engineering, they should go and teach.” The impact this statement has had on my entire education has been shocking.
I have always been smart and did very well on both my Unified Tertiary Matriculation Exams (UTME) and Post-UTME so it was no surprise when I got admitted to study Civil Engineering. I had no idea what I had just signed up for. After the matriculation ceremony, I discovered I was the only girl in the department. It was jarring at first but I soon got used to being the only female student around.
During our orientation and induction into the department of my dream, I heard my name alongside others and the Head of Department (HOD) muttered: “no wonder they offered you admission, your name sounds masculine”. What! My name sounds masculine? If not for this I would not have been offered admission to study the course I so desired and merited through keen studies? These were thoughts I had but kept to myself; I was already here and not about to let the HOD’s statement get to me.
My name does sound masculine, and a lot of people I meet are surprised to see a girl bear the name. It was already giving me access to many opportunities equally with the guys in my department. Though I did not know it was my name that availed me such opportunities at the initial stage of our first year, I thought I was just getting rewarded for my hard work and diligence. However, by the end of the first semester, I was already a familiar face and that was when the problems began. I had never imagined that some courses are reserved for men alone and as a female student, I am bound not to do well in the department so as not to outshine the guys in the society.
Could this be fear or inferiority complex? I wondered.
After the first semester, I discovered that I was either always in the middle or on the failing side each time our academic performances were published.
Male students who I was a lot smarter than were passing, how come they were acquiring higher grades than myself? I then decided to complain to my favourite lecturer and find out what I was doing wrong. He told me clearly that I should never expect to score higher than the guys here; “this is a male department, women have nothing to do with engineering, they should go and teach”, he opened up.
From that day, I lived miserably on campus because there was no result to show for the brightness with which I was known before becoming an undergraduate and the money my parents were spending on me. Gradually, I lost interest in studying hard since there was not going to be any real difference, this made my academic performance drop below expectations
Female students can also be mentally active as their male counterparts.
Give us our wings to fly.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To mark the #16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, non-profit organization Education As a Vaccine interviewed female undergraduates, the stories above were taken from the interactions and names of the students withheld to protect them.