A report on sexual harassment of students at Makerere University released on Monday has indicated that impunity by lecturers has fuelled the vice at the Ivory Tower.
The university vice chancellor, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe in March instituted a committee led by Dr.Sylivia Tamale to investigate the causes of sexual harassment at Makerere, review policy and regulations against the vice and also make recommendations.
On Monday, the report was handed over to Prof. Nawangwe.
However, according to the report, the climate of impunity at Uganda’s oldest university has made it easy for the vice of sex-for-marks to thrive without anyone reporting cases to management.
“Staff and students know the notorious perpetrators; stories do the rounds in hushed whispers but rarely are the perpetrators held to account,” says in part the report.
“In some cases, perpetrators are indeed reported, however, the relevant units rarely take the appropriate investigative action. This is particularly true for academic “stars” who attract huge financial grants into the university, or who are respected by their peers and students.”
The findings show that persistent incidents of sexual harassment are routinely swept under the carpet at Makerere.
Abuse of Power
According to the findings of the committee, respondents acknowledged the inequalities in power and exploitation of such power is at the heart of sexual harassment at Makerere.
It was found out that power inequalities are occasioned by gender, lecturer/student relationships and socio-economic status because most of the victims were female.
“The university is attuned to the culture that stereotypes female bodies as sexual objects as well as a sexist mindset that portrays women as available for men’s sexual gratification.”
The report also pointed to fear of retribution and jeopardising careers has encouraged the vice of sexual harassment as most of the victims fear to report the perpetuators.
“One respondent said, “how can you end the livelihood of a man who has a family to look after and a global reputation to protect just like that,”
Relationships between students and lecturers
Speaking at the handover ceremony, Dr.Tamale said there is a complex issue of relationships between students and lecturers which have on many occasions led to sexual harassment as the university.
“There is no policy that prohibits against relationships between lecturers and students simply because both are people above 18 years of age,” the committee chairperson said.
“There is therefore a thin line separating force and consent in this case.”
She explained that on many occasions, the relationships go sour prompting students to report it as sexual harassment whereas there was consent between them and the lecturers during their relationship.
The report pointed out to the physical infrastructure and organisation environment of Makerere being conducive to serial sexual harassment.
It was found out that most buildings do not have 24 hour security or surveillance cameras, adding that despite street lights on the campus, there are still dark spots along walkways.
The committee found out during its investigations that despite availability of the Policy and Guidelines Against Sexual Harassment, gender equality policy ,the professional integrity and standards policy and the human resources policy, all aimed at eliminating sexual harassment at Makerere University, the vice has continued flourish .
“These policies are not effectively implemented. The general university failure to enforce policies has generated a culture of impunity and a belief that the bark of the policies will never be accompanied by a serious bite,” the report said.
It was also found out that many stakeholders at the university are not aware of the policies against sexual harassment which has in turn fuelled the vice.
The committee however recommended for a policy review and that a clearly revised document should demarcate policy statements and procedural guidelines in regards the vice.
The committee also called for investigation and proper disposal of cases involving sexual harassment.
“In view of victims’ fear for retaliation, the policy should allow for alternative modes of presenting testimonies at the request of the victim. For example via pre-recorded video or written evidence,” the committee recommended.
The committee also recommended for installation of CCTV cameras in strategic places around the campus.