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Ethiopia, 9 October 2017: Girls bravely speak up against sexually abusive teacher, as #MeToo campaign kicks off worldwide

By Amanda Westfall

ADDIS ABABA, 9 October 2017 – In October 2017, UNICEF Ambassador Alyssa Milano sparked the viral campaign, “me too,” where she asked those who had been victims of sexual abuse to say #metoo via social media. With the goal to show the scale of the issue, the campaign shocked the world as millions of women, girls, men and boys participated.

In Ethiopia, Konjit,1 a 14-year-old eighth-grader who attends a junior-secondary school in Addis Ababa,2 is one of these brave girls who spoke out on sexual assault. Last year, one of her closest friends confided in Konjit and told her that their teacher had been sexually abusing her. Konjit, being a member of the school gender club knew what the teacher was doing was illegal. At her weekly club meetings, she was taught about the code-of-conduct which clearly states that those acts were punishable by school law. After discussing with her friend, Konjit decided to bring the case to the gender club to discuss what steps they needed to take to punish the teacher and stop the abuse from continuing.

The word began to spread to other classmates. More girls began speaking out to say, “me too.” They were first quiet for fear and shame, but once one girl bravely spoke out they too found the courage to tell their story.

As one can imagine, this was not the safest of times for the girls for fear that the teacher would find out and do more harm. “It was scary for us because if he saw us together he may know what we were up to. We were all so afraid of the teacher,” said Konjit.

However, this did not stop them. Konjit and other gender club members were determined to help their friends. In the end they found out that at least 9 girls were sexually abused by the same teacher, some at more severe levels than others. With support from the school’s Vice Director, Ms Netsanet Abebe, the gender club brought written statements from the victims as evidence to the school’s Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response Code of Conduct Committee who referenced the chapter that leads to severe types of misconduct. The committee unanimously made the decision to dismiss the teacher. The school also referred the case to the justice department for legal action where the teacher was then convicted in court and sent to jail for his actions.
 

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Bizuwerk
Ms Netsanet, Vice Director, is also the acting focal point for the gender club. The efforts made to convict and fire a teacher, who was sexually abusing girls, could not have been possible without the support of her. She gives proper guidance to Konjit and her gender club-mates about school-related gender-based violence.

 
If the incidents happened only a few years earlier, the teacher would have gotten away with his actions. However, two years ago UNICEF began supporting the Ethiopian Ministry of Education to develop a national code-of-conduct, build a system to report on gender-based violence and abuse, strengthen the capacity of gender clubs to put reporting channels in place, as well as incorporate men and boys into the clubs so that they can also play a central role in combatting gender-based violence.
 

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Bizuwerk
UNICEF supports the Ethiopian Ministry of Education to develop a national code-of-conduct and build a system to report on gender-based violence and abuse in schools while also strengthening the capacity of gender clubs.

 
Today, Konjit and her friends feel a strong sense of empowerment. Each of them took huge risks to tell their stories, but because they understood their legal rights they knew it was well worth it. The girls now know what to do to stop this from happening to other classmates. As one of the victims strongly puts it, “Now that the teacher is out, no one else would dare to do that to us. We feel stronger and more confident to take action!”

In a country like Ethiopia, where the prevalence of school-related sexual violence goes as high as 46 per cent3 it takes courageous girls to stand up and say, “Me too” and “enough is enough!”

 

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1 The name has been changed due to confidentiality issues.

2 Ethiopian primary school stretches for 8 years, from grade 1 – 8. Grades 7 and 8 could also be known as ‘junior secondary school’. The official age of school entry is 7 years.

3 Save the Children Denmark, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Women’s Affairs. (2008)

 

 
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