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#YouCanChangeThis at University

By: Julia Ngadi

As a student, I feel that violence against women and girls (VAWG) is widespread in universities, and those universities have not always acted effectively on this issue.

In recent years female students have reported experiencing a variety of unwanted behaviour whilst at university from verbal and non-verbal harassment to serious physical/sexual assault.

A Universities UK Taskforce examining VAWG, harassment and hate crime affecting university students found a staggering 64% of all women of all ages in UK universities has experienced “unwanted sexual attention” similarly 35% experienced ‘unwanted sexual touching‘.

It is crucial that universities across the UK tackle this issue because it is their responsibility to respond appropriately and effectively to students who experience VAWG. Violence against women can have a devastating impact on victim’s mental, psychological and physical state. Students can find themselves in relationships with an abuser who uses coercive control. Some of these students experience suicidal thoughts and others may even die by suicide like Emily Drouet. Many students may experience loss of confidence, depression and stress. It can also directly impact on the student’s education.

Emily Drouet, photo found here
Emily Drouet, photo found here

Moreover, when discussing VAWG within universities it is good to consider the experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women students because they face multiple challenges due to a combination of factors. BME students can be targeted for sexual harassment on the basis of their ethnicity, race and faith. ‘Intersectionality’, a sociological theory is helpful here because it argues that women’s lives are constructed by multiple, intersecting systems of oppression; they face unique and multiple challenges due to the combined aspects of their identity. All these aspects of the women’s identity need to be taken into account when discussing VAWG within universities because these identity markers do not exist independently. Furthermore, according to evidence submitted to the Taskforce, there is a rise in religious and race hate crime which means that Muslim and Black female students are at a greater risk of attacks. You can see these intersections of identity playing out in the film Hopscotch, based on a poem written by Nadine Aisha Jassat, a woman who was a student at the time she experienced comments like the ones she echoes within her writing.

All students have the right to enjoy and have a safe and positive experience at university whether undergraduate or postgraduate or from a BME background or not and it is the universities’ duty and responsibility to ensure this. By training staff on gender-based violence and on intersectionality the universities can respond effectively to VAWG and to signpost to support after an incident has occurred. Universities in Scotland are taking these issues seriously, and if you’re a student yourself, you can find support close to your institution on this website. The EndGBV cards are given to university staff, who can carry them on their lanyards and give students support if they choose to share what’s happened to them. They encourage university staff to believe what the person is saying, and to help the person to feel safe and to get specialist support if that’s what they want.

Emily Drouet’s mother, Fiona Drouet, has been instrumental in campaigning for this change. You can read more about her experience here. Universities should be safe places for all students. That’s why we need to end violence against women and girls everywhere, including universities.

#YouCanChangeThis #EndGBV #VAWG #ItsNotOkay