SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN PUBLIC TRANSPORT AMONG FEMALE STUDENTS AT THE FEDERAL UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY AKURE, NIGERIA
Adeniran OA1*, Ilugbami OJ2, Ilugbami MF3, Tayo-Ladega O4
1Department of Logistics and Transport Technology, Federal University of Technology Akure, Nigeria.
2Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria, Rector Office.
3Department of Social Sciences, Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria.
4University of Bangor, United Kingdom.
*Correspondence: Olaniyi Adetayo Adeniran; firstname.lastname@example.org
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Background: Every day females experience different types of sexual harassment while using public transportation worldwide.
Objective: This study aims to determine the prevalence of sexual harassment amongst female students who travel by public transportation at the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA) Nigeria.
Materials and Methods: A cross-sectional descriptive study. Data was collected using electronic questionnaires and analyzed with IBM SPSS Statistics version 21. Frequencies and percentages were used for data summary. Association between variables was determined using Chi Square test. Statistical significance was a p-value < 0.05.
Results: Ninety-three percent of female students in FUTA had experienced sexual harassment. Among those who had experienced sexual harassment, 98.4% were single, 81.5% lived off campus, 79.0% used public bus, 45.4% commuted daily, 84.7% was in an overcrowded vehicle and 52.9% was in the evening. There was a significant association between sexual harassment and marital status (p = 0.033), place of residence (p = 0.019), mode of public transportation (p = 0.014), time of travel (p = 0.018). Verbal sexual harassment was most prevalent (91.1%), followed by physical sexual harassment (87.6%) and non-verbal sexual harassment (82%).
Conclusion: This study found a high prevalence of sexual harassment among female university students in FUTA using public transportation, which occurs in a variety of scenarios, particularly in crowded vehicles during rush hour.
Keywords: Sexual harassment, Public transport, Female students, University, FUTA, Akure
Cite this article: Adeniran OA, Ilugbami OJ, Ilugbami MF, Tayo-Ladega O. Sexual harassment in public transport among female students at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria. Yen Med J. 2023;5(2):43–50.
The world is full of different form of evil acts including gender-based violence and harassments against women. The common form of gender-based violence is sexual harassment of women. It is characterized by a variety of repugnant and unwanted sexual acts committed against women at the expense of their liberty and comfort.1
Sexual harassment occurs when someone is inappropriately approached, addressed, given unwarranted sexual remarks, due to their perceived or real gender, sexual orientation, or gender expression.2 Welsh et al defined sexual harassment as an annoying sexual behavior.3 It is demonstrated through a forceful act,4 as it is usually perpetrated by more powerful actors against lower status targets.5 For instance, it can emanate from superior to subordinate in a workplace, from same gender and different genders (male to female) in various points.
Sexual harassment behaviours may be divided into three categories: verbal, nonverbal, and physical sexual harassment.6 According to Gautam et al,6 many women around the world are eschewing traditional roles and engaging in more public life to improve their educational and employment prospects. As a result of these daily activities, many women are more likely to encounter sexual harassment in public places, such as public transportation.7 Although sexual harassment is inherently gender-based, women are affected differently than males. According to Lindberg et al,8 women are more likely to claim that they have been objectified, denigrated, or treated differently because of the gender inferiority that is posed by the society. Harassment of males on the other hand is usually in the form of vulgar and homophobic remarks to reinforce conventional gender roles.9
In high school, the majority of students also encounter certain types of sexual harassment, either infrequently (59%) or frequently (27%), with girls suffering more severe and persistent forms than boys.10 Although sexual harassment is widespread, there is little information on the types of harassment that teenage females and males encounter. Sexual harassment may have a long-lasting harmful impact on the physical, emotional, and mental condition of an individial.6 It may have long-term detrimental effects on a person’s general wellness, including causing long-term sadness, escalating anxiety, and lowering self-esteem.
Studies found that there are several effects of sexual harassment in the tertiary institutions. For instance, it was revealed that sexual harassment contributes to poor health, anxiety, lack of motivation, and high dropout rates.11 Those who experienced sexual harassment in higher education suffered physical, psychological, and professional repercussions. Examples of these effects are annoyance, rage, tension, discomfort, helplessness, and degrading sentiments. It is generally known that depression may result from sexual harassment in higher education.12
Additionally, sexual harassment in the tertiary institutions causes anxiety,13 post-traumatic stress disorder,14 physical pain,6 unintended pregnancies and STDs,15 increased alcohol consumption,16 weakened career opportunities, and decreased job motivation.11 Factors specifically linked to the workplace frequently include absenteeism, decreased job satisfaction; engagement and productivity, decreased self-confidence and persons providing notice of their employment.17 Conflicts at work can result even from seeing or learning that a co-worker has been subjected to sexual harassment, which is known as “bystander stress”.18
To provide commuters with long-term mobility services, public transport is essential. As women use public transportation more frequently than men do, having access to safe, inexpensive, and dependable public transportation for women should be everyone’s top priority.19 Sadly, for many girls and women throughout the world, whose safety is still jeopardized when utilizing public transport, this is not the case. For instance, several studies have shown the high occurrence of sexual harassment of women on public transportation.20,21 Nonetheless, many cases of sexual harassment in public transportation frequently go undetected.
Women of all ages are susceptible to sexual harassment on public transportation, but young individuals, such as university students, are expose to more danger.6 Compared to other urban residents, university students are a demographic that is more active and dependent on public transportation because of their low income and lack of private vehicles.19 A study conducted in Asia documented the incidence of sexual harassment of female university students on public transportation.6 In Africa, studies of Kanyama et al,22 and Olorunfemi and Adeniran23 have examined commuter challenges generally, while Mark looked at challenges of gender-based violence facing secondary school girls24 in public transportation. However, they did not specifically examine sexual harassment among university female students in public transportation.
Sexual harassment of female students in public transportation, particularly in metropolitan settings has been linked to different factors such as the time of travel, frequency of usage, the kind of users, and overcrowding in the vehicles.25 According to reports, 78% of female students at Kathmandu’s five health science colleges reported being sexually harassed while using public transit, with the majority of victims being between the ages of 20 and 23.6 Mosha et al26 conducted a study among female first-year undergraduate students, who use public transport and are aged 18 years and above studying at the University of Dar es Salaam and Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences. It was revealed that the overall prevalence of sexual harassment on public transport was 88%. The study further revealed that verbal harassment was the most common form of sexual harassment (95%).
From the angle of socioeconomic characteristics of individuals on the occurrence of sexual harassment, Cortina and Wasti25 explained how power and culture impacts sexual harassment in Turkey and the USA. Fasting et al27 examined the experiences of Czech, Greek, and Norwegian female sport students with sexual harassment. Fielden et al28 examined the effect of power and culture on reporting rates of sexual harassment in the UK.
Rapid urban expansion of Nigerian cities is still being accompanied by a rise in the demand for social and transportation services. In developing nations like Nigeria, where public transportation is more widely used, there is also an issue with women being sexually harassed on the roads.22 There is a need to identify and rebuke the act of sexual harassment in whatsoever form and contest against it in various works of life including the private and public locations, workplaces, streets, and public transport. This will enhance and strengthen interpersonal courteousness and politeness.
Despite being a widespread problem there isn’t much research in Nigeria that examines the sexual harassment of women on public transportation. Based on literature search on the subject matter, there were no published studies that examined the degree and manifestations of sexual harassment among female university students who utilize public transportation in Nigeria. Hence, this study examined the occurrence of sexual harassment among a population of Nigerian female university students in Akure, Ondo State who travel by public transportation. This is to contribute to knowledge on the experiences of young female students in a Nigerian university who encounter sexual harassment when commuting with the use of public transport.
Study Design and Setting
This was a cross-sectional descriptive study conducted from 10th – 15th March 2023 at the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), Ondo State, Nigeria. The university has a north gate area through which a lot of students commute between 10am – 12pm, and 3pm – 5pm daily.
The study population were female undergraduate students of FUTA.
Only female undergraduate students of FUTA who were aged 20 years and above were eligible and failure to give consent was the only exclusion criteria.
Sample size determination
Formular for sample size in cross-sectional studies as derived by Zikmund29 was used as follows:
n is the sample size,
Z is the Z score for a 95% confidence interval; 1.96, and
E is the allowed error margin; 0.05.
By substituting the above,
n = (1.96)2/4(0.05)2
n = 3.8416/4(0.0025)
n = 3.8416/0.01
n = 384
A sample size of 384 respondents was achieved through the formula but was approximated to 400 for attrition.
Data Collection and Sampling Technique
Primary data was gathered from respondents who used the north gate at FUTA between 10am – 12pm, and 3pm – 5pm daily through the use of electronic questionnaires (Google form). Convenience sampling was employed to select eligible students that gave consent to participate until the questionnaire link was shared to 400 respondents.
Data were reviewed and analyzed using IBM SPSS Statistics version 21. For descriptive statistics, frequencies and percentages were used to summarize the data. Chi Square test was employed to measure the association between variables. Statistical significance was a p-value < 0.05.
Of 400 respondents, 372 (93.0%) reported being sexually harassed while utilizing public transportation. As shown in Table 1, most of the respondents were single (95.7%), lived off campus (81.5%) and used a public bus (75.3%). Most also commuted daily (44.8%), in an overcrowded vehicle (83.0%), in the evenings (50.3%). Among those who had experienced sexual harassment, 98.4% were single, 81.5% lived off campus, 79.0% used public bus, 45.4% commuted daily, 84.7% was in an overcrowded vehicle and 52.9% was in the evening. As shown in Table 1, there was a significant association between sexual harassment and marital status (p = 0.033), place of residence (p = 0.019), mode of public transportation (p = 0.014), time of travel (p = 0.018).
Three types of sexual harassment were experienced by more than half of the respondents, with verbal sexual harassment being the most prevalent at 339 respondents (91.1%), followed by physical sexual harassment at 326 respondents (87.6%), and non-verbal sexual harassment at 305 respondents (82%). Table 2 shows the types and nature of sexual harassment reported by the respondents. Each type of sexual harassment was experienced by the respondents in different nature.
Table 1: Characteristics of respondents, prevalence of sexual harassment and association between sexual harassment and respondents’ characteristics.
N = 400
Experienced sexual harassment
N = 372
Place of residence
Mode of public transportation
Rapid Bus Transit
Frequency of use of public transport
More than twice a day
Twice a week
Less than 4 times a month
Time of travel
Morning and Evening
Table 2: Types and nature of sexual harassment reported by respondents
Types and nature of sexual harassment
N = 372
Verbal sexual harassment
Someone giving you compliments of a sexual nature
Someone whistling at you
Someone telling you jokes of a sexual nature
Someone asking for mobile lines by calling you names such as pretty, baby.
Someone asking personal questions about your sex life
Non-verbal sexual harassment
Someone displaying sexually suggestive visuals such as winking, throwing kisses or licking lips at you
Someone asking for sexual favours
Someone showing you offensive/sexual pictures on a phone
Physical sexual harassment
Someone standing behind or in front of you and inappropriately
brushing their body against yours
Someone inappropriately touching your body
The aim of this study was to ascertain the frequency of sexual harassment among female university students at the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA) who travel by public transportation. The results showed that 93.0% of them had experienced sexual harassment. This is in line with findings from a recent study that examined sexual harassment of female students using public transportation in Nepal,30 and that of Mosha et al26 in Tanzania.
The global empowerment of women may be one of the factors contributing to this high incidence. By looking for employment and educational possibilities, more women are redefining their conventional roles and occupying greater space in society.6 As a result, they are more dependent on public transportation, which increases their vulnerability to sexual harassment.7 Although it makes sense that empowering women and advocating for equal chances in school and work would contribute to a reduction in violence against women, the reality is that the facts show the reverse. More investigation is required to determine why, despite empowerment initiatives, sexual assault is still a problem among university students.
Marital status, place of residence, mode of public transportation and time of travel were the risk factors for sexual harassment in this study. Similar characteristics associated with experience of sexual harassment was found in another study done in Nepal.6 According to this survey, verbal sexual harassment on public transportation was most frequently encountered by female students, followed by physical sexual harassment and nonverbal sexual harassment. Likewise, the female respondents in a previous study indicated the same occurrence pattern.27 These findings are also consistent with that of the Nepalese study which examined the prevalence of sexual harassment against women on public transportation and found that verbal abuse was the most common type, followed by physical harassment and nonverbal abuse.30
Due to emotions of embarrassment and a lack of knowledge about what to do and where to go, it seems that verbal harassment victims seldom reported the incidents to legal authorities. As a result, the culprits keep on harassing other people.12 This is one explanation for the study’s high prevalence of verbal sexual harassment. According to this survey, asking for mobile phone numbers while calling terms like “pretty”, “baby” was the most frequently seen kind of verbal sexual harassment. Displaying sexually explicit images constituted non-verbal sexual harassment. Non-verbal sexual harassment of female students has been similarly documented in Ethiopia.12 It has been noticed that many nations lack rigorous regulations and legislation to safeguard women. For instance, it has been stated that there are no laws protecting women from sexual harassment in the Middle East, North America, the Pacific, and East Asia.10
In the Nigerian context, there was recently an anti-sexual harassment bill that was intended to prevent, prohibit, and redress the sexual harassment of students in tertiary institutions. The bill was passed by the senate on Tuesday, July 7, 2020, and by the house of representatives in February 2022, however it has not been assented into law. Moreover, the bill did not address sexual harassment in public places. Because there are no severe regulations against sexual harassment, those who engage in it are protected and have the confidence to keep doing so.
There is a need for credible national, state and local measures to reduce the widespread problem of sexual harassment. Incorporating better safety measures in public places, such as increasing the number of public vehicles, eliminating thugs from public transportation operations, and using better vehicles can be among these. Awareness against sexual harassment in public transportation should be conducted in Akure and across other states of the Federation.
This study found a high prevalence of sexual harassment among female university students in FUTA using public transportation, which occurs in a variety of scenarios, particularly in crowded vehicles during rush hour.
We appreciate the individuals who have released relevant information for the conduct of this research.
AOA designed the manuscript, gathered and analyzed the data; JOI gathered the data and proofread the manuscript; FMI designed the literature review and methodology; OTL proofread and corrected the manuscript. All authors have read and approved the manuscript.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
The author declares that there is no conflicting interest.
Ethical approval was obtained from the ethical committee of the Federal University of Technology Akure.
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