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Female scholars' suffering revealed

An unprecedented review of research into women in higher education in the developing world has revealed massive discrimination, including widespread sexual violence and harassment.

Louise Morley, Annik Sorhain-do and Penny Jane Burke of London University's Institute of Education this week revealed the results of a unique three-year project to shed light on research by female academics into gender equity in the Commonwealth.

Researching Women , a bibliography launched at the Gender in Education conference in Cardiff, flags up more than 300 pieces of published and unpublished academic literature, including conference and seminar papers and postgraduate theses. They cover female academics and students.

Professor Morley said: "The literature shows that in some places, gender inequalities in higher education are verging on human rights issues."

There were widespread accounts of sexual harassment and violence, she said.

While this existed in Western universities, women in developing countries were often afraid of reporting incidents.

One international study says sexual violence in education is an unaddressed issue that could block women's participation and achievement and lead to dropping out, illness and even suicide.

A report on ten African countries says female students are often pressured into sexual relationships by male academics in exchange for favours or protection.

Students could face further victimisation if they attempt to report offences, and the study urges a recognised reporting system and effective sanctions against offenders.

A newsletter on the effect of sexual harassment on female students at the University of Zimbabwe says they are inhibited from taking male-dominated courses, travelling around campus at night or taking part in student politics.

The bibliography covers other recurring themes such as the gender gap in enrolment and recruitment, the lack of women in senior academic and management posts, and the absence of women in science and technology.

But Professor Morley said there were also reports of very positive initiatives that were working well. Conference papers from Uganda and Tanzania, for example, record successes with entrance and curriculum reforms to boost female enrolment.

Researching Women is available from the Institute of Education, 020 7612 6050 or ioe@johnsmith.co.uk, £14.99.

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