By: Pelumi King
International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8th to recognize the achievements of women and raise awareness about the challenges they still face. One of these challenges, in the context of higher education, is gender inequality. As a leading institution of higher learning in Nigeria, the University of Ibadan has a crucial role to play as a pioneer vis-a-viz improving the welfare of female students on its campus. In the past, the University has made great considerable strides toward correcting gender inequality. However, there is still room for improvement. This piece will be centered around the improvement of female students’ welfare at the university.
Infrastructural development should be a focal point of improvement toward gender equality in the University. School amenities should be improved to be more friendly, especially for females on campus. For one, the University could ensure that there are enough female halls of residence in the University and that these halls are well-maintained. Currently, there are just three female halls of residence at the University of Ibadan; Queen Elizabeth Hall, Idia Hall, and Obafemi Awolowo Hall. These halls are inadequate to cater to the growing number of women in the University. The majority of female students have to take accommodation off campus or ‘hustle’ rigorously to be able to get a room space in the hall. Speaking with Indy Press, for instance, Joy, a student of the faculty of Arts lamented about the long wait before she could get a room in Idia Hall despite being a finalist.
Still, on infrastructure, the university should also ensure toilet facilities for female students and staff are adequate, well-equipped, and well-maintained. Some female toilets are mostly unfit for use. A case study is the Faculty of Arts; female toilets are most times in a horrible state. It is important to note that women are more susceptible to the risk of contracting toilet infections. Lastly, on infrastructure, the university can improve walkways and paths by making them well-lit. This way, students (especially female students) feel more secure moving around the campus at night.
Secondly, the university can create more opportunities for female students to access scholarships and financial aid. This is important to assist female students from disadvantaged backgrounds struggling to afford the cost of higher education. The university can partner with organizations that offer scholarships to female students, or create its own scholarship programs specifically for female students. Additionally, the university can create systems that make it easier for female students to access financial aid, such as bursaries or student loans. Scholarships like this can be targeted at women who are not able to afford education or who are victims of societal prejudice against female education.
Furthermore, the university can implement policies that prevent gender-based violence. This includes an improvement of the code of conduct that prohibits sexual harassment both verbally and non-verbally. In the same vein, the university can make oversight systems for harassment cases more accessible. For instance, female students have complained about “Aro” and how it makes them feel uncomfortable. The management can make regulations that address verbal harassment on campus. These efforts can be augmented with awareness campaigns to educate students on the importance of respecting women’s rights and promoting gender equality. Additionally, the university can create support groups or counseling services specifically for female students who have experienced gender-based violence or harassment. The University should also make sure it treats reported cases with top priority and conducts a thorough and proper investigation into the matter.
Finally, the University can make systemic changes to encourage and support female participation in leadership and extra-curricular activities. For one, the university could use women-only clubs and societies as an avenue. The University could also explore systemic adjustments to ensure female representation in student governance. An effective means would be to stipulate specific percentages of women’s representation in a cabinet. Additionally, the university can provide mentorship programs or networking opportunities for female students to connect with successful women in their chosen fields.
Summarily, gender equality in higher education can be achieved through making systemic changes and awareness. By improving infrastructure, providing scholarships and financial aid, implementing policies that prevent gender-based violence, creating opportunities for female leadership and participation in extra-curricular activities, and providing support for student-parents, the university can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for its female students. This International Women’s Day, let us all work together to create a better world for women, particularly for women in higher education.