Breaking the silence around sexual harassment in DRC

Sexually Transmitted Points – i.e. better grades in return for sex. It’s a dilemma confronting many university students in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but not one that gets talked about much. Or at least it didn’t until Habari RDC decided to break the silence with their 2019 campaign #Univsansharcelement – Universities without harassment.

The Habari RDC team was inspired to create the campaign after one of their monthly “Face aux jeunes” debates in Kinshasa. The theme was: Corruption, monitoring and the sexually transmitted points phenomenon – What solutions for our universities? The response made clear that the problem was wide-spread but little was being done to tackle it. Habari RDC partnered with Congolese women’s rights organisations SOFEPADI and the youth-led Si Jeunesse Savait to roll out a nation-wide campaign both online and offline with activities in Kinshasa, Goma, Mbuji – Mayi, Lubumbashi and Beni.

Raising awareness
Given the lack of visibility of sexual harassment within universities and the lack of sanctions against it, the campaign aimed to raise awareness among the various actors (students, professors, university and national authorities). As well as sharing the stories of survivors, objectives included establishing counselling services for students who are targets of harassment, and changes to the law to make these behaviors illegal.

Lively discussions
Online activities included the publication of a series of 21 articles debating issues around harassment and ways to prevent it. The aim was to define the various types of abuse and what makes them possible, through survivor’s testimonies, proposals for solutions and advice for (potential) targets. The articles generated lively discussions with more than 3,200 reactions on Facebook. Visual content was also created with videos and graphics in different formats. This motion design video, Sifa , the harassment survivor, generated 20,000 views.

Live chats on Facebook with well-known personalities were also organised. Professor Jose Voto from IFASIC (a journalism teaching institution where 90% of the students are young women), Julienne Lusenge, president of SOFEPADI and Anni Modi from the NGO AFIA MAMA answered people’s questions directly, leading to rich and in-depth discussions around sexual harassment.

Fighting back
Offline, the “Face aux jeunes”debates were an opportunity for discussions with more than 240 students from 4 regions of DRC.  Testimonies from survivors were collected and measures for their protection and support discussed. In Mubji-Mayi for example, young people asked for the creation of a structure to record and fight against sexual harassment in universities.  In Lubumbashi, participants proposed that sexual education courses include information about abuses such as Sexually Transmitted Points. More than 80% of those who attended the debate in Kinshasa said they had learned how to report cases of sexual harassment.

Policy influencing
The Habari team were invited to participate in the development of the government’s  ”Normes directives de lutte contre le harcèlement sexuel dans les universités”(Guidelines for combating sexual harassment in universities) and took part in associated advocacy activities. This resulted in bringing together around the same table the Ministry of Higher and University Education and the Ministry of Gender, Family and Children in order to validate new guiding standards around the issue. This document is now with the Ministry of Planning for validation before being implemented.

The strength and reach of the #Univsansharcelement campaign have helped establish Habari DRC as a key player in discussions around youth and sexual harassment issues as well as influence legislation on a key issue for the country’s students.