LOUD WHISPERS: We Will Never Forget

I sat listening to the goodwill messages at the celebration of the Day of the African child in Ekiti State on June 15th 2021 and for once I was thankful for the combination of face mask and glasses. It meant I could pretend to be expressionless.

Sometime in March 2021, I had a meeting with Professor Francisca Aladejana, Special Adviser to Governor Kayode Fayemi on Basic and Secondary Education. Her portfolio covered Vocational, Technical and Girl-Child Education. She wanted my feedback on a draft Gender Policy the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in Ekiti State (MEST) were working on.

There is an inter-ministerial Gender Based Violence Management Committee in Ekiti State, which serves as the coordinating mechanism for the Ekiti State Gender Based Violence Prohibition Law (2019). The Ministry of Education is a key member of the GBV Committee, and they are aware that a lot of work needs to be done with schools to tackle school-related gender-based violence. The current Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology in Ekiti State is Dr Bimpe Aderiye, she served as a Permanent Secretary in the same Ministry before her retirement from the civil service a few years ago. I was therefore not surprised that between them, these two veteran female education professionals were taking the issue of school-related GBV very seriously. The GBV Management Committee, including the Attorney General of the State, Hon Wale Fapounda, provided technical support to strengthen the policy document. For weeks I worked with Professor Aladejana on the document, exchanging messages back and forth on Email and WhatsApp.

It was agreed that the MEST policy document would be launched on Children’s Day May 27th, but due to a number of reasons it was postponed to coincide with the Day of the African Child, June 16th. I sat there in the hall on the day of the policy launch on June 15th, thinking about where I was on June 16th 1976. I was thirteen years old, when hundreds of school boys and girls were gunned down on the streets of Soweto, just because they were protesting against an unjust educational policy that would have further eroded their rights as black South African children. Years later, when I was in London, I met two of the students (at different times) who had taken part in the uprising. They both told me, ‘We thought we were going to die’. Who in their right minds would unleash guns on school-children? The children who experienced this, all adults now with children or even grandchildren of their own, will never forget those days for the rest of their lives. Neither should we.

Forty-five years later, guns of conflict, kidnapping, poverty, hunger, disease and sexual violence are still being trained on millions of African children. Those kids on the streets of South Africa (and elsewhere who rose in solidarity) are now the current generation of policy-makers. The least we can do is honour the memory of those who gave their lives in the demand for a better future for African children by affirming that all children deserve a worthy life.

Due to the importance of this MEST policy to the education sector in our State and the country as a whole, I would like to share excerpts from it as follows, particularly the part to do with directives to schools in Ekiti State.

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY DIRECTIVES TO ALL SCHOOLS IN EKITI STATE ON SCHOOL-RELATED GENDER BASED VIOLENCE

School-Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV) refers   to acts or threats of Sexual, Physical, Psychological or Economic violence occurring in and around schools, perpetrated as a result of gender norms and stereotypes enforced by unequal power dynamics. Violence in schools is widespread, and discriminatory gender norms are one of the key-driving factors. SRGBV violates children’s rights which is a significant barrier for girls’ and boys’ access to and participation in education. There is the need to create a safe, violence free learning environment where boys and girls have equal opportunities. In recent times, there have been alarming and disturbing rates of SRGBV in our schools. This has to be addressed comprehensively.

All schools in Ekiti State shall have a Gender Desk Officer who is separate from the school Guidance & Counsellor, who would be well trained/grounded in all aspects of sexual and gender-based violence. The Gender Desk Officer shall receive reports of GBV cases from pupils/students and shall liaise with the school management between the “victim” and the appropriate authorities and agencies empowered by Law to ensure the protection of the rights of the pupil(s)/student(s) in line with the provisions of the Ekiti GBV (prohibition) Law 2019.

The following must be strictly adhered to in all schools in Ekiti State:

  • There should be GBV awareness campaigns by Principals, Head Teachers and Teachers.
  • Education authorities should encourage the teaching of Sex Education in schools.
  • Education authorities should carry out background checks on teachers in their employ, to ensure that there are no teachers with previous records of sexual assault/violence.
  • Parents should submit names and details of approved persons for drop off/pick up of their children to the school authorities. Parents should refrain from using random motorcyclists/drivers to take their children to school.
  • All Security Officers/Gate Men in schools should be routinely screened and supervised to ensure minimal contact with students.
  • There should be a Whistle Blower drop box in each school where confidential complaints about sexual harassment can be lodged.
  • Male teachers are to be discouraged from asking female students to stay behind to run errands such as cooking or cleaning for them.
  • All teachers and students should be prohibited from using sexist and derogatory language.
  • All students should be prohibited from using social media to harass and intimidate one another. The exchange of nude photographs, viewing of pornography, and so on is strictly prohibited.
  • Adequate and safe toilet facilities should be in place to ensure that girls are not endangered in their quest for privacy.
  •  Teaching of Security Education should take place in line with the provision of Security Education in the National Values Curriculum.
  •  Installation of Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) and school guards to patrol the schools.
  • Allotting an hour in the school time table for anti-GBV related co-curricular activities on Fridays from 12noon to 1:00pm.
  •  Students must report cases of bullying, attempted rape and rape to the School Principal immediately.
  • School authorities should assign monitoring/supervisory roles for teachers, prefects, parents in the prevention of GBV.
  •  Principals are to ensure formation of Anti-GBV Clubs in schools.
  •  School Principals/Head teachers should take responsibility for the security of their school compound by preventing illegal entry into the schools.
  •  Ministry of Education should produce fliers, posters, sign posts in conspicuous places in schools with NO To GBV inscriptions.
  •  Ministry of Education should ensure that all schools have Toll Free lines for reporting of GBV cases
  •  Any school rule/regulation that will prevent or discourage a pupil/student from reporting GBV within the school premises should be abolished.
  • Schools should regularly appraise Parents and Guardians on measures in place to protect children in schools and seek their cooperation.

The goodwill messages continued and I tried to focus on what was being said. As my thoughts wandered back to the present, I struggled to hold back my tears, but it did not ease the pain I was in. Professor Francesca Aladejana, the champion of the policy document we were there to launch on June 15th 2021, passed away suddenly on Monday May 17th 2021 at the age of 65. She was a very dear older friend, confidante, mentor, and passionate community leader. I will miss her terribly. She contributed significantly to the development of the education sector in Ekiti State in several capacities. She served as Provost of the then College of Education, Ikere-Ekiti (now Bamidele Olomilua University of Education, Science and Technology), as Chair SUBEB, Ekiti State and then Special Adviser to the Governor.

The MEST Gender Policy and directives on school-related gender-based violence is one of the many legacies she leaves behind. Professor Francesca Aladejana will never be forgotten. Rest in peace my dear Auntie Francesca. Thank you for your role in shaping the minds of thousands of children over many decades. Long live the African Child, wherever or whoever you are. You deserve the best from your continent. We will never forget.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She is the First Lady of Ekiti State, and she can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

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3 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: We Will Never Forget

  1. DSEED June 21, 2021 at 12:44 am

    Kudos to Ekiti state government for putting all these in place. How I wish other states can emulate it. To Prof Aladejana may her soul continue to rest in peace.

    Reply
  2. Femi Diipo June 22, 2021 at 10:50 am

    Wow! These are incredible developments and I believe these will make a world of difference in our schools in Ekiti. We went through alot as students in Ekiti as boys, for our girls it was mostly unimaginable, i still shudder at the thought of many of the experiences.
    More grace to you Ma, you’re really making our land a better place. May God console you and the family of Prof. Aladejana, it’s always extremely sad when death takes one of the best

    Reply
  3. Olakunle Olajide June 22, 2021 at 5:08 pm

    Well done ma, you are really doing well. My condolences to Prof. Francesca Aladejana, may her good works continue to benefit the African child.

    Reply

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