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اليوم السبت 20 ابريل 2024م21:55 بتوقيت القدس

Private “Whispers” in Narrow Circles.Remark

"Academics" Betrayed the Trust... "Secrets" from the Heart of the Campus!

25 يونيو 2023 - 13:34

: The names mentioned in this investigation are pseudonyms due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Gaza - Islam al-Astal and Marah al-Wadiya:

The story began when one of them, two girls, laughed out loud, while telling her friend in a cafeteria - where one of the two investigative staff was by chance - that she had returned months ago to study at the university again after her separation!

In fact, the colleague did not intend to eavesdrop, but the young woman's high-pitched voice was very clear as she said in the context of a lot of "gossip": "Imagine a professor, every time I go to the office to review my grades, or ask him about something, he says to me: "Your husband lacks Good taste, your husband is a man who doesn't understand because he's divorcing you. He said to me one time: Of course, this beautiful body needs beautiful scored.”

With a quick glance that the reporter took to the next table, it became clear that the girl appeared to be in her thirties, beautiful, and well-dressed. She told her friend how surprised she was about the difference in his dealings with her via WhatsApp, "because he becomes very formal, and he only responds with a little." The girl was silent for a while, then added: “I once visited his office, and he turned the conversation around, entering the details of my life, and inquiring about the reason for my divorce, then he surprised me with his crude question: “I mean, let's talk frankly. Don't you think about those things?"

Within the narrow circles of female students in the various universities of the Gaza Strip, types of faint "whispers" revolve around the exposure of some of them to a form of gender-based corruption, including (harassment - extortion - sexual bribery).

According to the complaints reviewed by the two authors of the investigation, the reactions of the female students were divided into several sections: some of them file a complaint against the teacher, and some of them are content with silence for fear of "societal stigma", and some of them file a complaint and withdraw it for fear of the teacher's retaliation. This is what happened with many female students whose complaints were closed for lack of evidence. On the contrary, some of them had to submit either to a move of emotion, or fear of failure, or a desire to obtain a high average, or “forced” due to the lack of protection or an effective complaints system that allows the teacher to be held accountable.

Before going into the details, it must be noted that here we are not discussing a “phenomenon” and we do not refer to a specific university, but even individual cases that can occur within a campus established to complete the virtue of education, prior to education, oblige us - as a fourth authority - to knock on the walls of the tank to alert the university administrations, and to find safe ways to complain that guarantee the protection of female students and the confidentiality of their cases.

The absence of bylaws in most universities in the Gaza Strip regarding the determinants of academic interaction between teachers and students, has enhanced the chances of involvement in corruption cases based on gender. This is what the investigation advocates for endorsement in all universities in Palestine.

When we decided to knock on this door, it was not easy to find female students who had the audacity to speak out, or to disclose any violations that they might have been subjected to during their university studies. Even, some of those we interviewed retracted their statements that they had told us for fear that they would be identified; One of them said, "I am afraid for my reputation. I would rather lose my right than lose my reputation."

Fear and the desire to turn this page, or erase it from memory, were at the forefront of the situation. This is for those who have previously been exposed to situations in which they felt humiliated, weak, helpless, and confused about how to act, and they are the ones who do not know how to protect themselves, or keep them from a person who is the highest authority, “stature and value,” in a ruthless society.

Holding the stick in the middle, the stories we got from girls, or from "reliable" workers inside some universities in the Gaza Strip, are not all in which the teacher is condemned. What may even be surprising is that some female students can deliberately drag teachers into suspicious conversations, then blackmail them with it to raise their grades, or pass them in the subject, "this happened." One of the workers says (and we reserve the right to mention his name) from inside the University of Palestine, adding: "Whatever the matter is, this does not justify the professor being dragged into any transgression."

(13)!!

In this story, "You'll try to take in what I'm saying and you won't believe it." This was said by a young man working in a prestigious center in a university in the Gaza Strip (who preferred not to be named).

A female student, married, came to complain about a university doctor. She said he harassed her, asking her to online "sex". He continues: "I don't know if she was aware of what she was doing, she was so angry that all she spelled it all out." She said to the department employee in an emotional tone: “He thinks he is alone?”

As for what she meant, it was successively revealed in a commission of inquiry convened after her complaint. "She admitted that 13 lecturers at her university were involved with her in the same story," he says, "and they all have recordings" he added.

Indecent video clips of the girl and the 13 lecturers, audio recordings of the "vice" words, and pictures of specific areas of the body for both parties - according to "Nawa’s" source - all of which were presented by the girl as evidence of condemnation to the teachers who began to deny their relationship with her, blaming her appearance, clothes and the way she spoke as a " pervert girl"" as one of them put it.

What amazes the source, until this moment, is that many possibilities have been developed around this case: “An attempt to recruit spies?! No, as the Ministry of Interior confirmed that with evidence. Well, for passing and marks?! No, the professors are from her department, and from other departments! Nor did she ask any of them to do anything like this, but what is certain is that if the student was unaware of what she was doing, then the teachers should not be complacent. "It's 13 professors! Can you believe it?" he asks in a surprised tone.

In general, the source confirms that the student was dismissed from the university, and that the penalties for all professors ranged "according to their involvement in the relationship" between full dismissal, partial dismissal, dismissal warnings, and transfer from academic work to administrative work.

In an unattended land!

At the door of the room in which Dr. A's (54-year-old) lecture had just ended, a group of female students hovering around him impeded the exit of the students, asking him about some - incomprehensible - points in his course, especially since the exam was just around the corner.

(S) In her twenties, she did not pay much attention to his looks towards her, until he called her after her classmates left, and asked her about her family! "Isn't she the one who lives in the so-and-so neighborhood?" (And mention the name of the neighborhood). She shook her head in the affirmative, and he surprised her immediately by saying, “Excellent.” This means we are neighbors; "I'm going home, and I can take you with me If you like."

The student's thinking, "very innocent by the way," did not imagine that anything would happen other than her arrival at her home accompanied by her teacher, and that she would thank him a lot after that, but what happened was different... rather terrifying.

Suddenly, the professor deviated from the path of the road, and he smiled assuring the girl that he would take her a shortcut. (S) recounts what happened next, saying: “The car came to rest in cultivated land, which seems to belong to him. He approached me and began to harass me. I screamed and cried, and my saliva dried up in fear! What is happening? How dare he? Quickly, I opened the car door, and went out screaming and running on a path I did not know, until I reached the public street, and I walked towards my area quietly after I arranged myself and wiped my tears.”

(S) was unable to reveal what happened with her to anyone. She was afraid that her name would become “gum” in the mouths of her colleagues if she filed a complaint with the university administration, “No one will believe that this (respected) professor can do this, especially in the absence of material evidence or even witnesses."

The amazing thing about the story is what happened the next day, when the doctor came to his lecture as usual, swaggering with his gait. He stood up and gave his lecture completely ignoring (S), until after the lecture ended, he called her and asked her if she wanted to meet in an apartment!

She wonders: "What can I do in this case? He is betting that I will not tell anyone or complain, and he will continue to harass me, or perhaps he will fail me in the course," adding with a breakdown: "Our teachers inside the campus are our security. If our security is lost, where can we find it?"

"Until my wife sleeps!"

According to the young woman (A), "many women are forced to submit to the teachers' transgressions, such as words that are thrown into their ears haphazardly, touching the hand with a pen during explanation, or other hints, for fear of being denied or failing in the subject." She added: "But the scandal, the spread of the story among female colleagues and professors, and the matter turning against the student, is possible in a large percentage, so who will believe a student and disbelieve a professor?"

The story of (A), in short, talks about a university professor who used to teach her a course during her first year of study. She was surprised at his closeness to her, and his assistance to her with summaries specific to her before each exam. He was even helping her check her grades, even though she hadn't finished paying the fees.

The young woman was happy about this exclusivity, but she was sure that something was going on in his head about her, until it actually happened.

She adds: "I was surprised by him once texting me late, and when I replied, he answered me: Listen, I will talk to you when my wife sleeps." His last word aroused suspicion in her head, and her heart began to beat strongly. When he came back, he began to tell her about his wife: "My wife does not comfort me. She is a housewife and does not take care of herself. I want one that is sweet and comforts me."

The girl talks about the sound of her heartbeat that interrupted the stillness of the night. She went with her older sister to the university and entered the doctor's office without permission. Then, she started yelling at him: "You are a disrespectful person, I am the age of your daughters, and you do not communicate with me after this, do you understand?”.

The student says: "I left him in a daze, but I was sure that I would get a low mark that would affect my GPA, and indeed that is what happened."

In any case, complaining to the university was not an option for her, "the scandal is not forgotten here, and even if I prove my words by the texts I have with me, I cannot convince them that I have been replying to him at late times out of respect, or thinking that he is my teacher. Even worse, I will not be able to explain my acceptance of his keen interest in me, and his transgression of the university’s rules for my sake. Therefore, the decision was to accept the decrease in GPA, and to keep quiet about what happened.”

From behind the door

"It was one of the most difficult text messages I received," says human rights activist Hala Shoman, "It was from a young man."

She continues: In the text message that came within the context of a direct conversation with her (Live broadcast) about the harassment issue, it came: “My colleagues and I were on our way to the dean’s office. While we were in the corridor, the department coordinator (female student) came out; she preceded us with a set of papers in her hands. In fact, we refused to invade the privacy of work, and preferred to wait for her to leave.

After a few minutes passed - continues the sender of the text message - we began to hear her screams from inside the room, "The thunderbolt was when we opened the door as we found him in an inappropriate position. When he saw us, he turned his face towards the wall and she quickly ran away crying, he pulled himself together and asked us to go out immediately."

At the level of the Gaza Strip, the two investigative staff published an electronic questionnaire, which they posted to the pages of some influencers on social networking platforms. While it was sent to female university students personally, and they helped distribute it. After more than two months, Nawa had received only 94 responses by the time this investigation was published. This indicates once again the fear of the students who received the questionnaire from delving into the issue, "according to many personal responses when it was sent to them, and their refusal to fill it out."

Electronic questionnaire

And in the response of the respondent category to the question: Have you heard from female students, or about female students, who were exposed to any form of corruption based on gender within the university? (harassment-extortion-sexual bribery), (40.2%) answered “yes,” while (59.8%) answered “no.” Among the (29 stories) reported by the category that answered “yes” were the following summaries:

A university professor molested my sister and removed her shawl.

I spoke with a doctor about the specialty and during the conversation he tried to change the conversation. He started talking about sex and women and girls, and then I blocked that dr.

He was sending me on Facebook and asked me to meet at an apartment after much persuasion.

A student asks the lecturer about a question, and he sits next to her without leaving a distance or permission.

As for the response to the question: Did you witness (visually) what could be considered a form of corruption based on gender during the university study period? (30.9%) answered “yes” and (69.1%) answered “no.” Among the observations mentioned by some of those who answered “yes” were the following summaries:

There are more than one professor who teaches me specialization courses flirting with girls (verbal harassment) in direct and indirect ways, for example: some of them were trying to touch the hands of girls and I noticed this strongly, as he had a pen with him, but he nevertheless got up from his chair and snatched the pen from the hand of a certain girl (usually a pretty or very elegant girl).

The girl was coming out of his office, crying and scared, and went to the dean of the college.

I heard more than one doctor embarrassing married female students and talking to them about private issues. The doctor asked my colleague, before all the students, what did you save? "The word has the meaning of pregnancy, but in a disgusting way."

In the context of the target group's answer to the question: "If you were exposed to, or heard about, female students who were subjected to a form of gender-based corruption... How did you behave? Or how did they behave?" Nawa received 34 responses, including:

Ignoring the situation and trying to forget, no action was taken.

I kept silent.

Once I complained to the administration, the blackmailer had a Ph.D. and was an assistant manager. The recipient of the complaint told me that he knows that I am honest, but there are people who are able to twist the facts and by that he meant the harasser.

I tried to communicate with the dean of the college and try to solve the problem.

In connection with the previous question, (90.7%) answered the question: Have you submitted a complaint to the university administration? by "No", while (9.3%) answered "Yes", followed by only 11 responses with details confirming that "the university did nothing in this context", and even one of them added: "No, they even claimed that I was at fault".

Thirty-five girls sent responses justifying the reason for not submitting complaints due to fear of scandal, lack of confidence in the support of the administration, fear of her family knowing and thus preventing her from going to university, fear of failing the subject as revenge from the teacher, or the teacher denying and turning the truth around.

(34) In response to the question: According to your experience or the experiences of your female colleagues, or what you heard from the surroundings, how is the university dealing with such cases?

The vast majority of the responses talked about neglecting the complaint, or the university covering up the lecturer, and sometimes accusing the girl of deliberately tarnishing his image and the reputation of the university, and threatening her not to open the topic again, and stick to her lectures or else..., or suffice with warning the professor at best.

And to the question: Did you know about a university professor who was punished with suspension from work, dismissal, or even a warning, because of his practice of one of the aforementioned forms of corruption (harassment-extortion-sexual bribery)? (27.5%) answered “yes” and (72.5%) answered “no”, and this has implications.

(47.8%), according to the results of the questionnaire, do not know if their university’s electronic page includes any icon for receiving student complaints, while (35.6%) say that there is one. At the same time, (21.1%) do not know whether their university has held any awareness workshops for new students about corruption based on gender, and the mechanisms of dealing with it if they are exposed to any form of it? While (17.8%) answered that “yes” workshops were held, and (61.1%) answered “no”.

If universities adopt this pattern in raising awareness of gender-based corruption issues, and students do not know about them, then university administrations must review their marketing of their activities and invitations more effectively.

(96.8%) believe that female students need this form of awareness, while 89.2% believe that internal policies should be approved for universities in the Gaza Strip, clarifying the mechanism of interaction between students and teachers there. While 95.5% affirm that the existence of an electronic complaints system at the university can allow more space for female students to file complaints if they are exposed to any form of corruption based on gender.

Dr. Hamdan: "There is no university free of practices"

In the context of researching the procedures followed by the universities of the Gaza Strip in the case of receiving complaints from female students about their exposure to a form of corruption based on gender, five universities unanimously agreed in separate interviews with the two authors of the investigation that they take strict measures against any transgression that can be proven against any member, a member of the teaching staff, or any employee within the university.

Al-Aqsa University was our first destination, as Dr. Muhammad Hamdan, Director of Cultural Affairs and Public Relations, did not deny that some female students were subjected to harassment or what he called “flirting” by their lecturers at the university, saying: “Whoever says that any university is devoid of such incidents is lying. However, the decisive factor remains the way to deal with it, and how to follow up and solve it.

At the level of his university, he informs us that there is a complaints box available to all students of both sexes, "but it does not provide contact information with the complaining party, and this is its defect, and it does not allow the attachment of evidence."

In a parallel way, Dr. Hamdan talks about female students who go formally, but friendly, to the competent authorities within the university, to express their complaints about harassment they are subjected to by some professors, "with an emphasis - on their part - not to open files in their names, even if they are right," he continued.

"In the event that the matter is a major moral transgression, we try to persuade the student to file an official complaint, so that the Disciplinary Committee begins its work, and the matter turns into an official file for which the perpetrator will be punished," he added, "but most of them completely reject this option, and this hinders the restoration of their rights, or the conviction of the teacher involved."

In the official complaint, the girl complaining at Al-Aqsa University - according to the Director of Public Relations - is required to provide evidence and proofs, in order to take a decision that will be enforceable at a later time, after questioning all parties.

He confirms to "Nawa" that "there are cases of electronic harassment that occurred mutually between female students and professors," especially during the pandemic period. Regarding the penalties, he says: “The maximum penalty imposed by the university, after investigation of official complaints, is complete dismissal.”

With regard to setting regulations, or codes of conduct, and circulating them within the university among students and faculty members, Dr. Hamdan points out: “What makes it difficult for this to happen is division, where one side talks about trying to solve these problems, while the other side sees itself as being targeted, and describes the reports received as malicious.

Dr. Shadi Oweida: "Our censorship is within the walls of the university"

And to the University of Palestine, where the two investigative reporters met with the university vice president for administrative and academic affairs, Dr. Shadi Oweida, who stressed the university's rejection of any actions that could offend Palestinian customs, morals, and values, pointing to "clear accountability mechanisms that the university possesses in these cases."

Oweida stated that the Deanship of Student Affairs is the official destination for any complaint filed by a female student, "We have specialized female employees at the university to deal with female students, distributed in all university buildings," he says.

In his response to the restrictions set by the university to control the way of dealing between female students and lecturers, he indicated that they are "general determinants" within its internal systems, and include general behavior, "far from allocating moral corruption" (harassment and extortion), warning that it "does not have oversight mechanisms." Lecturers and students outside its framework, but it is keen on the commitment of everyone within its campus, to the recognized determinants and systems.

Oweida acknowledged the absence of an official complaints box, which, according to Dr. Hamdan, he considers “useless,” “especially if the complaint was written without mentioning the name the complainant.” He promised the investigators to study the idea of activating an electronic complaints box, while ensuring complete confidentiality.

He points out that "all university offices are open to female students to complain about any transgression or harassment they may be subjected to," pointing out that "the existence of a case of transgression does not mean that moral corruption is rampant in any university."

Code of Conduct and a Cut Loose Box

At the Islamic University, we met the Head of Training, Development and Administrative Quality, Jabr Abu Sabha, who talked about an electronic fund for the university called “Cut Loose”, “which is activated, and guarantees complete confidentiality for the complainants,” but he categorically denies that any complaint has been received about incidents of harassment or extortion. or sexual bribery.

Abu Sabha stresses that his university cannot tolerate any corruption case, "especially if it is ethical." He pointed out that the Islamic University prohibits the closing of office doors completely for a professor and any female student, or even a group of female students, "and whoever among the employees or members of the teaching staff proves any transgression against him, the university will take the appropriate action against him."

While some universities find it embarrassing to put in place clear protection mechanisms from harassment, or any form of corruption based on gender, Dr. Abdul Raouf Al-Mana’ma, Director of the Quality and Development Department at the Islamic University, confirms that the university has set clear regulations, within its code of conduct consisting of 16 articles, mentioned harassment explicitly.

By reviewing the Code, it was mentioned in Clause (C) of Article No. (5), "Refrain from using any kind of verbal or physical harassment against an employee, student, external public, or any service recipient." While the seventh item in Article Three stressed the commitment to integrity, objectivity and transparency in the management of the academic evaluation of students, and the treatment of all students on the basis of equality, fairness and equal opportunities, without discrimination.

The Code of Conduct, which you can view at https://shortest.link/7wkw puts an end to any transgressions, for any reason.

Al-Manama confirms that the university follows strict procedures, which may reach the point of dismissal altogether, if any involvement in this matter is proven on the basis that no one is above the law, calling on female students not to hesitate to file complaints in any situation in which they may feel a suspicion of corruption.

Al-Israa and al-Quds: "No complaints"

Although Al-Quds Open University in Gaza adopts the open education system, so that it does not impose official face-to-face attendance on its students, it does adopt an electronic complaints system, according to what Yasser Odeh, Head of the Student Affairs Department, confirms.

Odeh denies registering any complaints of gender-based corruption at his university, “Indeed, the professors often do not know male and female students, and do not deal with them directly,” he says, pointing out that the university does not need a regulating code of conduct due to the difference in its educational system, “unless It will not harm, if any, in the event that higher education works on it, and approves its publication in all universities of the country.

Hijazi Al-Qarashli, the legal advisor at Al-Israa University, confirms that the university, since its inception, has allocated a code of conduct for its faculty members, covering everything related to the behavior required by the lecturers, as well as the case for administrative staff and contract employees.

He pointed out that the university adopts the electronic evaluation system for lecturers by students at the end of each semester, which gives it the freedom to make decisions about renewing or terminating the contract, "and this, in my opinion, puts an end to any behaviors that may deviate from the scope of values and morals," pointing out that " The university has not witnessed any transgression in this regard, but it will not be able to do anything, even if it is known, unless the student submits an official complaint.

Universities have the right to act.

The two investigative teams went to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, where Dr. Khalil Hammad, Director General of University Education, confirmed that the ministry gives space to universities to take the necessary measures, and at the same time they are fully aware of all procedures related to gender-based corruption cases. The failure of any university to put an end to the issue, or to deal with the issue, forces the ministry to intervene, form a specialized committee to investigate, and take the appropriate legal requirements. He concludes.

 In this regard, Hammad stressed that "the cases are rare and do not constitute a phenomenon," pointing out that these cases are dealt with in complete secrecy, in order to preserve social peace. He pledged to study the issue of approving a code of conduct, in cooperation with all universities, and to establish clear protection mechanisms, within controls and a complete behavioral system.

Despite the great contradiction between the results of the questionnaire, and what was stated by most of the specialists in the universities interviewed by the two authors of the investigation, the unifying point between the two perspectives is that these stories are hidden within the cloak of societal fear, fear of scandal, and “glittering” taboos of reputation.

At a time when the majority of higher education institutions in Gaza fear or ignore the word “harassment” being explicitly included in their codes of conduct and internal regulations, which defines mechanisms for protection against it, the “clarity” in the model of the code of conduct published by Bethlehem University and its title : “The Policy for Protection from Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Abuse,” https://shortest.link/7T2G , which affirms that “harassment” is unacceptable and reprehensible behavior, and it results in a violation of an individual’s dignity, or the creation of a hostile, humiliating, violent or condescending work environment, showing its forms, and the punishment of its perpetrators as a heinous crime.

The existence of cases exposed to any kind of corruption based on gender within any university does not fault the university itself, but rather its negligence in taking measures to prevent it in the first place, before treating it. This is what brings us back to the first square from which the idea of this investigation emerged, related to “the need to approve internal regulations on the determinants of academic interaction between teachers and students, safe protection policies, and an effective complaints system, as soon as possible.”

This investigation was prepared for the Coalition for Integrity and Accountability (AMAN).

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