Esther A. Armah

Sex on tape: the position, the principal and the pupil. The viral video of an 18 year old SHS student on her knees on a stool having ‘sex’ with her principal has been the focus of much discussion. There has been ridicule, back and forth about consent and multiple versions about what happened.  Ghanaians took to social media and posted images of stools. It became a trending topic on social media.

Now we have laughed, ridiculed, posted, judged and shamed – can we have a thorough, critical exploration of this issue?

So; Sex, Lies and Viral Video.

Sex: this 18 year old did not have sex. The Principal violated Ghana Education Service policy.  This was flagrant abuse of his power.

Lies: she did not consent. Ghana Education Service policy makes that impossible.

Video gone viral: social media means we are getting access to the tip of an iceberg when it comes to sexual violence and violations in school by principals and teachers of students.

We in the media reported it as ‘sex’. In such circumstances, given policy and accuracy, it is incorrect. Language matters.

In this case, the pupil is 18. She has apparently said there was consent. For many,  that meant it was no longer an issue – so many across media and society dismissed it, but continued to judge, shame and laugh at this young woman.

With such issues, we routinely focus on the actions of the girl. Let’s turn our lens where it should be – on the conduct of the Principal.

The Ghana Educational Service Code of Conduct says:-

Sexual violence:-

“Sexual offences: No teacher shall indulge in immoral relations with a pupil or student in his own school or in any educational institution. This may result in disciplinary proceedings being taken against the offender.’

No teacher shall directly or indirectly do anything that may constitute sexual harassment of a pupil/student.

Any teacher, who has carnal knowledge of any female/male pupil or student of any age with or without his consent, shall be guilty of professional misconduct.”

The policy condemns the actions of this principal.

The principal is not alone. He is part of a deeper cancer.

In July-December 2016, a survey by the Central Regional Directorate of Health and Education and the Department of Gender did a survey that found 301 girls were made pregnant by their teachers. In June 2014, Tumu Senior Tech High School was the focus of investigative journalism that revealed an environment where girls appeared to be under sexual siege from their teachers and principal. Naming the School principal, senior teachers, the journalist identified a culture of sexual harassment, where perpetrators threatened and punished girls that refused to be raped. The article lists names of the teachers and the students in the piece.  In November 2017, I attended the launch of the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Project report that highlighted successes in education; but noted sexual harassment and sexual violence continues to be an area of major concern.

Statistics paint a partial picture of the horror story that can be education for students across Ghana. Sexual harassment, violation or rape can impact a girl or woman’s progress, position and possibility. We consistently underestimate or ignore its power.

Let’s deal with education policy.

It exists. The action of every teacher included in the survey is a violation of GES policy.

In the Principal sex-tape case, correspondence highlighting the incident, confronting the principle and taking action, exists. The principle admits he is the person in the video. He said sorry. The correspondence then details a meeting between the community and the girl’s father seeking resolution to what they call an ‘issue’. The community and the father say they have no problem with the principle. They say they have a problem with whoever leaked the video.

The principal’s actions go against the GES code of conduct. The Principal’s apology should prompt an investigation into his history regarding sexual violation of other girls’. Is the GES conducting such an investigation?

GES is not effectively implementing its own policy. It is weak, ineffective and unhelpful. The GES’s failure to fully implement its own policy and sanction accordingly is a huge part of the problem.  It is a disgrace. Their inaction is a weapon that shields the guilty and further exposes the vulnerable to more abuse. In fact, the Ghana Education Service is failing its own policy duty to protect girls or boys.

Free SHS means education is at the top of a political agenda. Free SHS has been lauded as a powerful tool to create a more literate nation. It is indeed. The President and this government are rightly applauded for introducing it to this nation. It offers revelations about the state of our schools. It should also be seen as an opportunity to focus on and take action about the state of ‘sex’ in our classrooms.

Post access comes the quality of education conversation. The quality of education must include the safety of students from teachers who sexually harass, violate, rape and impregnate. Free SHS should not also mean greater freedom to violate the vulnerable due to larger numbers of students.

We are at a moment of crisis when it comes to violation of girls bodies by principals and teachers. Some men seem unable to discern violation from volunteering. They impose personal fantasies on breach of policy; they justify the unjustifiable in order to avoid the necessary confrontation with their own unacceptable behaviour which our ‘culture’ has normalized. Their behaviour is condemned by their profession’s code but condoned by our culture and girls’ families who believe such ‘relationships’ are beneficial due to a teacher’s status. Such mixed messages serve the ongoing abuse.

I am a teacher. I teach at university level in Ghana. At every university I have taught – with the exception of Webster University – girls have raised issues of sexual harassment that occurred from JHS to SHS to university level. I am a public speaker. I have spoken at the annual YAWC – the Young African Women’s Congress; I spoke at the 2017 conference for The Women’s Commission of Grasag, University of Ghana. There was story after story after story regarding sexual harassment and sexual violation of students by their teachers and in some cases, their lecturers.

The Coalition Against Sexual Abuse (CASA) has called for a Ghana Sex Offenders Register. Should teachers who violate their own Code and endanger the futures of girls or boys, also be on such a Register? Removal from this post is insufficient action – if he can get a job in another school, he becomes a danger to another school girl.

Right now the sexual harassment, violation and rape of girls and women is the focus of a global movement. The #MeToo movement is raising multiple issues about the pandora’s box of sex, consent, sexual harassment, rape. In Zambia, teachers are being sacked for having ‘sex’ with pupils. In Tanzania, pregnant school-girls were arrested, igniting outrage from children’s rights activists demanding that those who got them pregnant be arrested.

Let’s connect the dots. At our Presidential Media Encounter, not a single journalist asked a question about sexual violence in schools.  We in the Media need training to more accurately language these cases. When we don’t we reinforce a culture where girls are blamed for the sexual appetites, deviance and actions of men.

This issue is also about gender – in other words the ways in which we are taught to be boys and girls; men and women. That teaching condones the men’s behaviour and blames the girls’ behaviour.

Ghana has gender initiatives, accolades and launches coming out of its ears. In addition to the actual Ministry for Gender, Children and Social Protection, the President launched (Gender and Development Initiative for Africa) GADIA. President Nana Akufo-Addo has a Special Advisor on Gender; he was named the African Union Gender Champion; and he launched the #HeForShe initiative that aims to make 2 million Ghanaian men pledge support for issues of equality and an end to sexual harassment against women.

Accolades must turn into action. Launches must transform into living, working practical policy. Policy must be implemented and followed with sanction and serious consequence.

Educating a nation is a crucial tool for progress. When that education is interrupted, violated or marred by sexual violence, it threatens the very progress we seek to make.

We have policy: enforce it. We have political will: engage it. We have access to information: employ it. We have our culture; address it.

This is much more than one case.  It is the evidence of too many things unseen.

The hardest thing to open is a closed mind. We can change. We can do this. We must.

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