Kampala- The committee investigating sexual harassment at Makerere University has released its findings confirming that lecturers sexually harass and abuse students and recommended several penalties, including expulsion or dismissal of the offenders.
The committee also recommended punitive fines of up to two years’ salaries and compensation to the victims as part of the solutions to deter the evil practice.
While handing over the report at Makerere University yesterday, the committee chairperson, Prof Sylvia Tamale, said they discovered that lecturers take advantage of their power and offices to sexually exploit female students by threatening to fail them if they do not yield to their sexual demands.
The committee was appointed by the Vice chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, in March this year following widespread outrage on sex-for-marks scandal at the university.
The committee noted that sexual harassment at the institution is rampant and peaks towards graduation time where lecturers threaten to frustrate the graduation of female students, especially those with missing marks unless they offer sex in exchange.
The report says the desperate female students often yield to the lecturers’ sexual advances in order to graduate.
While receiving the report, Prof Nawangwe reiterated the university’s zero tolerance to sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment is a vice that affects many organisations world over. At Makerere University, we must take every necessary step to fight against it. The committee has indicated that sexual harassment is about power relations. We will not tolerate any misuse of power,” Prof Nawangwe said.
“The university management is going to study the recommendations in the report. All cases identified will be investigated and decisive action will be undertaken,” the Vice Chancellor added.
The committee observed that the existing penalties for sexual harassment are weak and recommended that the current policy be reviewed to make the punishments more deterrent and comprehensive.
“It should include fines of up to two years’ salary and compensation of victims. It should also include some guidelines on which conduct for what penalty; for example, the maximum penalty of dismissal or expulsion should be reserved for rape or repeat violators,” the committee states.
The report further states that the policy is not very clear where and to whom victims of sexual harassment should report.
It says the policy only speaks generally of “person in authority” or “any academic staff, administrative staff or students’ leader”.
“The existing policy has been in existence for 12 years and university units have not fully enforced it. Only the School of Law had a standing Anti-Sexual Harassment Committee in accordance with the policy while other units’ established ad hoc committees when a case was reported. Given the inadequate levels of student and staff awareness, it is hardly surprising that enforcement of the policy was very low,” the committee observed.
Perpetuation of sexual harassment was also blamed on lack of 24-hour security patrol or surveillance cameras at campus, which breeds a fertile ground for sexual harassment.
The committee also noted that although street lighting at campus has improved tremendously, there are still several dark spots on walkways, especially near halls of residence for female students.
“Although there is a police station on the main campus, there is no regular security patrol on the campus grounds. A safe and secure environment on campus would go a long way in reducing incidents of sexual harassment and abuse,” the report observed.
Respondents during the committee investigations blamed women’s provocative dress styles as partly responsible for sexual harassment.
The vice was also partly attributed to lack of awareness of the existing policies on sexual harassment, abuse of alcohol and drugs and fear of retribution or jeopardising career.
The committee said there are many cases of sexual harassment the victims reported to academic and administrative staff, but no action was taken.
Specific sexual harassment cases
In 2017, six students at the College of Business and Management Sciences were sexually harassed by a lecturer in the School of Statistics and Planning.
The students testified to a special committee that was instituted by the then Vice Chancellor, Prof John Ddumba, which led to the suspension of the lecturer, but to date, the committee’s report on his case has never been published.
In April the same year, several students of Medicine and Surgery complained to the Mentorship Committee of the College of Health Sciences (CHS) about being sexually harassed by some lecturers (names withheld for now).
One of the doctors, a well-respected senior researcher and mobilises huge funding for CHS, was implicated.
The students said under influence of alcohol, the lecturer locks female students in his office, gropes them and makes sexually-suggestive comments to them.
The committee noted that no staff member at CHS was willing to disclose the name of the doctor and the case has not been resolved.
In a similar incident, a first-year student of Botany and Zoology at the College of Natural Sciences reported a rape case to Wandegeya Police Station in March 2016.
She stated that her lecturer (name withheld) had sexually assaulted her at his residence in Quarry Flats at the campus.
The committee says no action has been taken against the lecturer and he has continued teaching.
A new case arose during the committee’s investigations where an official in the Academic Registrar’s Department sexually abused a former female student who was seeking certification of her academic documents.
The culprit (names withheld) was arrested by police and charged before the university completed its investigations.
However, the culprit had been released on bail by the time the committee was preparing its report and the university had not commenced its own hearing.
•The Vice Chancellor appoints a special committee to dispose of all pending cases of sexual harassment at the university.
•The anti-sexual harassment committees based at university units be removed and substituted with a broader Vice-Chancellor’s Roster of 100 Anti-Sexual Harassment Committee members, who can be called upon to constitute smaller ad hoc panels whenever the need arises.
•Review of the existing university policy which should be renamed “Policy and Regulations Against Sexual Harassment”. The committee says the revised policy should clearly demarcate policy statements and the procedural guidelines which the ad hoc committees must follow in hearing the cases and establish effective mentoring relationships for staff and students.
•Makerere University proposes to government to amend the Education (Pre-Primary, Primary and Post-Primary) Act of 2008 as well as the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions (Amendment) Act 2006, incorporating issues of sexual harassment in educational institutions. Government should also be advised to strengthen the sexual harassment provisions in the Employment Act of 2006. In particular, it should deal with the wrongful assumptions that sexual harassment occurs only in workplaces with more than 25 employees or that it is only employers and their representatives who are capable of harassing.
However, the committee declined to recommend a dress code for students and staff. They argued that perpetrators should not invoke women’s attire and sartorial choices as a defence for sexually-harassing the victims. It observed that the university cannot stop relationships between lecturers and students, but added that staff must disclose the extent of their relationships with students and other members they are required to directly evaluate or assess.