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Algerian University Authorities Promise an Investigation into Sexual Harassment

Algerian university authorities have promised an investigation into sexual harassment on campuses after complaints from student union representatives.

Abdelhafid Miqran, head of Algeria’s National Council for University Morals and Ethics, said by the end of the year there would be a full report into the issue with accurate statistics. Investigation committees affiliated with the council will work at universities and colleges across the country.

The committees will also investigate other ethical issues on campuses, including academic plagiarism and student violence, Miqran said.

Student Movements Against Harassment

Students had formed anti-sexual harassment movements in some of Algeria’s universities, where some female students have chosen to leave university housing and stay with their families, even though their homes are sometimes far from their campuses.

Fear of sexual harassment has prompted some female students to leave university housing and stay with their families instead, even though their homes are sometimes far from their campuses.

One such student is Bahia Azazka, a second-year pharmacy student at Ferhat Abbas Sétif University 1, in Sétif, east of the capital, Algiers.

Her university is more than 80 kilometers from her family’s house, but she chose to stay with her family to avoid “sexual harassment in the university housing,” Azazka told Al-Fanar Media.

Samir Ansal, an official in the Free Student Union in Algeria, told Al-Fanar Media that sexual assault and harassment had long existed in Algerian universities, but it was little mentioned in public debate “to preserve the reputation of female students.”

Student officials, including Abdelhak Bentaleb, a member of the General Secretariat of the Algerian Students Union, accused some university officials of being “responsible for the recurring incidents of sexual harassment because of their failure to strictly enforce the law, and their silence about the issue of strangers infiltrating universities and university neighbourhoods.”

Bentaleb said the student union had sent letters to the relevant authorities, including the General Directorate of University Services, asking them to impose stricter measures “in order to protect universities in general against the phenomenon of sexual harassment.”

Physical and Electronic Surveillance

However, Jamal Ben Mansour, coordinator of university services in central Algiers, said all university residences in Algeria “have a strict security system to prevent the occurrence of incidents inside university campuses.”

These security systems rely on security agents from private companies who physically oversee the university perimeter, as well electronic monitoring via surveillance cameras at the entrances and exits of student residences, and along the perimeter.

Ben Mansour added that more than 80 percent of university residential buildings had electronic ID cards for entry and exit.

Efforts to deal with sexual harassment on campuses should “get over all the caveats that the researcher might meet while analysing such problems,” a previous study recommended.

He added that while the authorities were investigating reported incidents of assault or harassment in Algerian universities, the problem is far wider.

It “also occurs in various universities of the Arab world in particular, and the whole world in general,” he said. “That means these are isolated incidents that must be fought by applying laws and tightening security coverage.”

Getting Over Caveats that Hinder Research

A previous academic study by a researcher at Mohamed Seddik Ben Yahia University of Jijel recommended that careful consideration be given to the issue of sexual harassment.

Efforts to deal with the issue should “get over all the caveats that the researcher might meet while analysing such problems … because of the secrecy and cover-up that often surround them due to their nature and issues of privacy,” said the study.

The study, by the researcher Mehdab Laila, also said students should be kept especially busy in colleges that had experienced incidents of sexual harassment, among other practical measures. In addition, policies should consider the roles of families and religion in raising awareness among social groups, especially the young.

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This study defined sexual harassment as “a type of undesired sexual behaviour that affects individuals and aims to harass and tempt them.” The study added that the term “sexual harassment” did not exist until the mid-1970s when researchers and scholars began regarding it as a form of violence against women.

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