Omowumi Ogunrotimi
Ashoka Fellow since 2023   |   Nigeria

Omowumi Ogunrotimi

Gender Mobile
Omowumi is working to prevent sexual harassment in higher education institutions by helping them introduce new rules and regulations designed to mitigate, punish and hold perpetrators accountable.
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This description of Omowumi Ogunrotimi's work was prepared when Omowumi Ogunrotimi was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2023.


Omowumi is working to prevent sexual harassment in higher education institutions by helping them introduce new rules and regulations designed to mitigate, punish and hold perpetrators accountable.

The New Idea

Omowumi is preventing sexual harassment in university campuses by partnering with institutional heads and leaders, and student body leaders to change how sexual harassment is perceived in institutions of higher learning and ensure that institutional leaders are aware of the hideous sexual violence and harassment happening in their institutions and stepping up to tackle it. Through her initiative, Gender Mobile, Omowumi is holding authority figures accountable for creating a safe and equitable environment for all students while also working to empower students to speak out against sexual harassment and to hold perpetrators accountable.

She is activating the power of students and student unions through tools to immediately report and initiate action on sexual violence and harassment against fellow students. Through her Campus Pal app, she is engaging undergraduate students as active bystanders and brother’s/sister’s keepers who can report cases of sexual violence on campus, play the role of accountability partners to fellow students, and advocate for justice for victims of sexual violence.

The Problem

While sexual harassment can affect individuals of any gender, it disproportionately impacts women and girls due to power dynamics and how societies are organized in this part of the world. Women and girls often face negative consequences such as post-traumatic stress, depression, difficulties in reading, compromised safety, diminished comfort, and unequal access to education. Within the broader demographic of women, there exists a particularly vulnerable subset comprising those aged 17 to 21. Studies have shown that these young women are four times more likely to experience sexual harassment compared to older age groups. Additionally, the first year of college, known as the "red zone," is a period when students are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault on campus, putting freshmen at higher risk.

A 2018 survey by the World Bank Group found that 70% of female students in Nigerian tertiary institutions have experienced sexual harassment. This means that most female undergraduates have been directly affected by this issue. Additionally, anecdotal evidence suggests that many women who have not personally experienced harassment avoid classes taught by lecturers known for sexual harassment. This avoidance behavior has far-reaching implications, as it compromises academic freedom and hinders the realization of the full potential of women and girls in Nigerian higher institutions. Clinical evaluations have shown that the consequences of sexual harassment for women and girls are multifaceted and far-reaching. They can lead to psychological stress, distress, and other health problems. The losses incurred because of harassment are often complex and cannot be adequately captured or labeled. The cumulative impact on the well-being and development of women and girls is immeasurable.

Sexual harassment in Nigerian tertiary institutions is a serious problem that has a significant impact on the mental and physical well-being of victims. It can also have a negative impact on their academic performance and may even lead to them dropping out of school. There are many factors that contribute to this menace, including imbalances in power dynamics, the absence of clear policies and procedures for addressing sexual harassment, and a lack of effective mechanisms for resolving grievances. The consequences of sexual harassment can be severe and long-lasting as victims may suffer difficulties with concentrating in class and may ultimately withdraw from social activities. In addition to the individual consequences, sexual harassment can also have a negative impact on the institution as a whole. It can create a hostile environment for students and faculty, and it can damage the institution's reputation.

The Strategy

Since its inception, Omowumi’s Gender Mobile has achieved remarkable milestones. She started with successful pilot programs in four universities in 2018, and its impact has since expanded across the higher education spectrum. Due to the reputational issues associated with sexual harassment, institutions partner with Omowumi’s organization as an accountability partner to strengthen their internal mechanisms and firm up public confidence in the image of the institution.

Her organization uses a four-pronged strategic approach:
1. Policy
2. Technology Integration
3. Bystander Intervention
4. Preventative Education

Due to the integrated nature of her work, all the approaches flow seamlessly into each other making her work comprehensive.

For her Policy work, Omowumi partners with universities who sign a 3-year MOU with Gender Mobile to set up sexual harassment prohibition policy guidelines co-authored by them. The MOU clearly spells out the obligations of Gender Mobile and that of the institution with some accommodation for individual peculiarities.

The policy requires the establishment of a technical working group that is gender-responsive and socially inclusive, with women and persons with disabilities, and two student representatives. Drawing from the inclusive composition of the group, the policy defines sexual harassment in the school, establishes clear reporting channels, and sets out appropriate punishments for offenders. The policy then goes to the university's senate for approval after which it becomes an institutionalized sexual harassment prevention document with the appropriate punishment for perpetrators and offenders in the school. In addition to this, the schools create designated safe spaces where Gender Mobile dispatches volunteer liaison officers to act as boots-on-ground for monitoring and evaluation. Also, as part of the adoption of the policy, each school adopts the Campus-Pal App as a way of institutionalizing the policy and show of accountability. The Campus-Pal App also gives power to students by providing them with a reporting mechanism that goes directly to the technical working group.

For the Technology Integration strategy, the Campus Pal App enables students to report sexual harassment against themselves or any other student they witness. When a sexual harassment case is reported on the app, the committee's designated handler, who is also a member of Gender Mobile, is notified. The committee is then required to investigate and conclude the case within 45 working days. After the investigation, the university will take appropriate action based on the findings. If the student suffers victimization after reporting the case, Gender Mobile will step in and take up the matter with the university authority. If the student suffers emotional trauma, Gender Mobile will provide them with appropriate counseling and therapy support. The Campus Pal app also has a survivor center and a matching feature. The survivor center provides a safe space for students who have been sexually harassed to share their stories and get support. The matching feature allows students who have been harassed by the same perpetrator to connect with each other. This way, students can collectively hold authority figures accountable using a united front.

In the area of Bystander Intervention, Omowunmi partners with the institutions to roll out bystander intervention training at the beginning of every academic session. The training equips students with knowledge on what constitutes sexual harassment, consent and power dynamics, how to identify and intervene in potential sexual harassment situations, and how to provide support to victims/survivors. Furthermore, Gender Mobile's Campus Pal App also provides resources for students to report cases of sexual harassment against themselves or other students without fear of reprisal from perpetrators.

As part of her Preventative Education strategy, Omowumi has developed and widely shared a comprehensive guide to sexual harassment policy documents through various student-focused outreach activities, such as town hall forums, student orientation programs, research report dissemination, and mobile app campus drives. Working closely with institutional management teams, Omowumi and her Gender Mobile team have engaged with 102 institutions of higher learning in Nigeria (59 universities, 29 polytechnics, and 14 colleges of education), providing technical assistance in developing sexual harassment policies and reaching over 100,000 students to date.

Recently, Omowumi and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) - a federal government agency tasked with combating abuse of power and authority- co-authored a national policy document on sexual harassment prohibition, which has been approved by the Federal Ministry of Education. The policy is designed to institutionalize sexual harassment prohibition in universities and institutions of higher learning in Nigeria.

The Person

As a young girl, Omowumi experienced a traumatic incident of sexual abuse, and about a year later, she tragically lost her childhood best friend due to an unsafe abortion after her friend became pregnant as a result of similar abuse. As a teenager, she volunteered her time for a non-profit called - “Kids and Teens Resource Center” where she initiated a program called, “The Knowing Series” to educate fellow teenagers on what they need to know about abuse and abusers, while raising money through weekend jobs and community service.

During her undergraduate legal studies, she set up an organization called “Advocates for Kids and Teens” to advocate for the passage of the “Child’s Rights Act” in the state. Shortly afterwards, she led the organization to create a radio program on the state radio station called “Expressions” which had a clinical segment that helped people know what to look out for to prevent themselves from being sexually abused and harassed by authority figures in situations where the power dynamics leaned in favor of the potential perpetrator. The radio program enjoyed a five-year run and reached thousands of listeners.

All these personal experiences shaped her career trajectory as a lawyer and profoundly influenced the conceptualization of the Gender Mobile Initiative and the nature of her work. Witnessing the devastating consequences of gender-based violence first-hand ignited a passionate drive within her to address the underlying issues and promote justice and support for survivors. The experiences she went through serve as a constant reminder of the urgency and importance of her work.

Today, she is a legal practitioner with an academic trajectory in gender & development studies and demonstrated experience in policy influencing and advocacy, gender-based violence prevention programming and community mobilization. She has spent most part of the last 4 years programming on school-related gender-based violence and continues to advocate for safe spaces for vulnerable women and girls.