Written by: WilliceAbuya, Albert Obbuyi, and Paula Tavrow
22 July 2020
The End Violence on Campus (EVOC) project was designed to reduce campus sexual harassment and assault
at the main campus of Moi University, in Eldoret, Kenya. EVOCwas a collaboration between Moi University
(Dr.WilliceAbuya), the Centre for the Study of Adolescence, Nairobi (Albert Obbuyi and Hellen Owino), and
the UCLA Bixby Program in Population and Reproductive Health, Los Angeles (Dr. Paula Tavrow). It was
funded with a seed grant from the University of California Global Health Institute (UCGHI) Center of
Expertise on Women's Health, Gender, and Empowerment.EVOC was launched in June 2018.
Why was EVOC needed?
The project was spurred by the concern that Moi University (MU) may have a serious problem regarding gender-based violence (GBV). MU was established in 1984 and has grown to 15 schools with a total student population of 52,000. The main campus houses five Schools and has about 15,000 students. In October 2017, the University made
national news when two security guards were charged with the rape of a first-year student in her hostel room.
This led to student outcry. The MU Student Council called upon the university administration to ensure student safety, not just in hostels but also within the institution. However, it was noted that the University did not have a
comprehensive plan for monitoring the extent of GBV, preventing future GBV, or assisting victims of GBV. In addition, though the University has policies on gender-based violence and sexual harassment, there was little effort to curb intimate partner violence (IPV), which is likely to be more prevalent among students than rape by strangers.
What were the main components of EVOC?
The main purpose of EVOC was to develop and test a comprehensive, low-cost, feasible, and student-driven model of prevention, monitoring, and victim services that Moi University (Main Campus) would be able to implement, sustain and build upon in the coming years. The project’s main elements were as follows:
- Prevention. At the core of EVOC was the creation and registration of an EVOC club, led by female and male student activists who were interested in reducing violence on campus. The club had several key functions: (a) to train interested students in GBV/IPV issues including toxic relationships, rape myths, consent, and bystander interventions; (b) to plan and lead a 2-3 hours’ session on GBV/IPV awareness during the annual orientation of first year students; (c) to assist the EVOC team to survey second year students on their GBV/IPV experiences; and (d) to carry out other activities, such as Campus Dialogues and walkathons, to raise awareness about the problem and seek solutions. The club’s patron has been Dr. Abuya, a senior lecturer in Sociology. The EVOC club also was intended to be a safe space for students to share experiences and get mutual support.
- Monitoring. Because the MU campus lacked any data on student experiences of harassment or assault and the aftermath, EVOC instituted a comprehensive survey of second-year students. The survey also queried students about the university health services and their knowledge/attitudes. Second-year students were selected because students’ first years on campus are when they are most vulnerable; second-year students would still have strong recall of their early years, and MU could rely on the survey (whether annual or bi-annual) to serve as a tracking method to see what had changed after interventions like EVOC.
3. Victim services. For students who have been harassed or assaulted, it is important for them to get assistance through discussing their trauma and learning about their options. EVOC launched two major initiatives: (a) to introduce confidential counseling services to MU, utilizing lecturers from the departments of psychology and sociology; and (b) to make the MU health services more adolescent-friendly, so students will get the support and assistance for optimal sexual and reproductive health. For the latter, EVOC trained MU nurses in youth-friendly services (YFS) delivery. EVOC also conducted an assessment of the extent to which the current MU health services were youth-friendly, set up a YFS Champions Committee composed of EVOC students and health services staff, and developed an action plan to improve service quality
What does the EVOC club do?
Since EVOC was designed as a student-driven model, the first task was to form the EVOC club. Since its formation in 2018, and under the patronage of Dr.Abuya, the club has effectively carried out its mandate and was awarded the “Student Organization of the Year” at MU in 2019. The student population has embraced the project and this has been very instrumental to the success of the programme. Its first chairperson was Sofi Aidi, followed by Glory Kithambi, with Jayne Kariuki as the current chair. The club has always had males as vice-chairpersons and has achieved gender equality in its membership of about 50 active students. Besides being involved in all the EVOC project activities, the club has participated in other activities, such as MU Reproductive Week in November 2019, and Eldoret Town’s International Women’s Day in March 2020.
As envisaged in the project, and for capacity-building purposes, technical advisors trained the EVOC club members on GBV/IPV issues. From this training, they were able to effectively articulate EVOC’s aims, to participate meaningfully in EVOC activities, and to serve as peer ambassadors at MU. Of note was the clubs involvement in the 2018 first years’ orientation on two separate occasions. For the orientation, a brochure with EVOC’s key messages (such as that harassment and assault are never the victim’s fault) was distributed to all incoming first-year students. Due to EVOC’s effective participation, the Dean of Students has welcomed EVOC to be part of new student orientation every year. The EVOC club further participated in the 2019 orientation and expects to continue their involvement when MU re-opens.
What was learned in the EVOC survey of second-year students?
The survey was initially planned to be conducted online, but the campus wifi capacity was limited and many students lacked the ability to participate. So the survey was reformulated to be self-administered with paper and pencil. It was conducted in November 2018 and involved over 584 students (61% female) across the Schools of Arts and Social Sciences, Biological and Physical Sciences, Engineering and Information Sciences. The survey focused on GBV/IPV knowledge, beliefs, and experiences since arriving at MU (on sexual harassment, other kinds of victimization, sexual assault, and use of health services). A second survey was planned for November 2019 but due to an ongoing strike, this did not materialize. This yearly event has now been rescheduled to the post-COVID-19 period.
EVOC club at Moi University new student orientation. Source: Owino.
Key findings from the survey were as follows:
How were the EVOC counseling services organized?
During the design of the project, the team learned that MU has counseling staff working in the Dean of Students Office, but they are focused on student academic matters. No one was providing trauma counseling to student victims of sexual harassment and assault. To set up counseling services, the EVOC project negotiated with the University Health Services to convert an unused small structure near the hospital into a CARE counseling office. Three psychology lecturers were identified and trained. Agnes Busienei was nominated to spearhead the care counseling services at this facility. CARE counseling consists of:(a) counseling to survivors of sexual violence to deal with shock, loss, grief, and despair;(b) assistance to clients to develop a plan of action; and,(c) liaison with others to help clients carry out the plan of action. The counseling is based on the trauma-informed culture of safety, choice, trust, collaboration, empowerment, and cultural competence. Peer counseling from several EVOC leaders has now also been integrated into EVOC.
What actions were taken to make MU health services more youth-friendly?
The survey revealed that many MU students avoid visiting the University Health Services because the facility was not private and confidential, some students were treated harshly or denied services, the facility closed for some hours of the day, wait times were long, and general student discomfort. To address these challenges, EVOC trained four of the nurses in youth-friendly services delivery which included values clarification. EVOC also hired a nurse supervisor to conduct an assessment of the services. Then EVOC held open meetings at the health facility where EVOC club members and health services staff discussed students’ concerns with the facility. From these meetings, a committee was created composed of health providers and EVOC students that was called the “EVOC Youth Friendly Services Champions”. The Champions developed a plan of action for how to make the services more youth-friendly and a WhatsApp forum. They have met several times to move the plan forward, but their activities were paused by the COVID-19 outbreak that closed MU.
What has been the impact of EVOC and the lessons learned?
While it is not possible to know the impact that EVOC has had so far on the MU main campus, the project has laid the groundwork for continued student activism and awareness-raising, monitoring of harassment and violence on campus, and improved victim services including more responsive health services. EVOC has also held several meetings with top university managers including the DVC Academic, Dean of Students, Chief Medical Officer, Chief Security Officer, among others, to discuss ongoing support for EVOC activities and improved reporting practices. EVOC technical advisors have also shared results with several other campuses in Kenya.
The main lessons learned have been as follows:
- Both female and male students have been eager to be involved in EVOC. Having a gender-neutral name for the club, and focusing on issues of general interest (e.g., consent, toxic relationships, bystander interventions), the project was able to achieve gender equality in membership and activities, which was a major strength of the project.
- First-years orientation and campus training are good platforms for raising awareness of GBV/IPV issues, but the university also needs to put up notices and improve information on its website.
- Online surveys for monitoring of students are unrealistic in low-resourced universities. A self-administered paper survey was the most feasible. The survey should be streamlined so that it can be taken in 15 minutes because some who took the survey found it onerous.
- More attention needs to be placed on the role of university staff as perpetrators of harassment and assaults. EVOC had initially believed that boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) were a prime target, but the survey data revealed that they accounted for only about 2% of offenses. Students were the main perpetrators (70%), followed by administrators and university staff (22%).
- More attention also needs to be placed on developing more transparent, youth-friendly reporting and investigation processes for students who have been victimized. Having a gender office on campus is not sufficient.
Check out EVOC’sFacebook page for more information and alerts on upcoming events: https://web.facebook.com/endviolenceoncampus/