Shrinking Civic Spaces and Institutions of Higher Learning

Students in institutions of higher learning go through various rights violations.These range from silencing of vocal students through suspensions and in extreme cases expulsions, other challenges that inhibit the enjoyment of the right to education include missing marks , intimidation by lecturers and other university staff and there are also incidences of sexual exploitation more so among female students .

Many students suffer in silence because they do not want to endanger their graduation and end up wasting time spent in school.Others suffer from mental health issues and may lack safe spaces to express what they are going through.The extent of mental health challenges among university students is evidenced by cases of depression , substance abuse and in some cases suicidal tendencies.The inability to cope with the pressures of life, learning and unstable sources of income also add to an already vulnerable situation.

For students who come in conflict with the law, many lack legal representation and are stigmatised by friends and family for “failing the family” expectations by getting into conflict with the justice system.Ostracised by family , some turn to drugs and other substances to cope with the societal rejection.

Against this backdrop, Haki Nawiri Afrika with support from Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung(RLS) -Eastern Africa Regional office, is implementing a pilot project to address shrinking civic spaces amongst university students by bringing students and community members together to discuss human rights , discuss how to address human rights violations , enhance capacities on how to demand and defend and build their capacity on paralegalism to enable them have basic legal skills including how to navigate the justice system.

With the human rights training , students are commenting that they have learnt to appreciate human rights , they have a changed attitude towards activism and are willing to address some human rights violations at the community level.The initiative is also bridging the gaps between university students and communities by bringing them together for dialogue and collaborative networking.

Leonida Odongo

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Yes sexual exploitation among female students is common in our higher learning institutions in Africa.

This discussion intrigues me. Before retiring in June 2019, I spent 36 years of my 50-year career working in higher education here in the US:

Communication Director, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio Business Law Professor, University of texas, Austin, Texas Legal Methods Professor, Widener School of Law, Wilmington, Delaware Associate provost & Legal Counsel, Rider University, Lawrenceville/Princeton, New jersey

I held that last job for 23 years. Beginning in the first decade of this new century, the US Department of Education began to take a strong interest in dealing with sexual harassment and sexual assault on American college campuses. President Barack Obama made this somewhat of a crusade and it remains a very significant issue for our universities to this day. When I was working at Rider, I was involved in investigating a number of sexual assault cases.

How are your universities dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic? Is it a big issue? Here in the US, universities are trying to cope with the pandemic, while opening their campuses as much as they safely are able. Many schools, such as Rider University, are private, non-profit institutions. They usually rely very heavily on tuition, room and board fees to meet their budgets. This puts a lot of pressure on them to reopen and get students back on campus. Frankly, I’m kind of glad not to be involved in all this.