The Minister of Education, Ms Janet Museveni, has asked all institutions of learning to implement sexual harassment guidelines to make schools safe for learners.
In a speech read by the Speaker of Parliament, Mr Jacob Oulanyah, at Makerere University yesterday, Ms Museveni said sexual harassment and abuse cases in education institutions affects productivity of learners.
“We are all aware that one of the key ingredients to quality education is a safe and conducive learning environment. We cannot expect our learners to be safe in an environment crowded with selfish, unprofessional and backward behaviour that threatens their stability,” Ms Museveni said.
She added: “I appeal to you to protect learners in educational institutions and let them concentrate on what brought them to school. I call for professionalism and integrity among staff who work in the education institutions,” she said.
The minister also said there is a provision in the Employment Act that should rein in sexual abuse and harassment.
According to Ms Museveni, the Employment Act stipulates that an employer with more than 25 employees must implement a written policy against sexual harassment that includes a notice to all employers that sexual harassment is illegal.
“There are consequences for employers who are found to have committed sexual harassment. I urge all education institutions to implement this policy at each institution level so that we deal with this vice,” Ms Museveni said.
At the dissemination exercise held under the theme, ‘kicking sexual harassment out of higher education institutions’, Makerere University researchers admitted that the vice is still rife despite management establishing policies and systems to fight it.
Prof Grace Bantebya from Makerere University School of Women and Gender Studies, said research conducted last year indicated that more than 55 per cent of female students and staff had experienced at least one form of sexual harassment.
She said 91 per cent of female students and 80 per cent of female staff are victims of sexual harassment acts that have never been reported.
Most acts are not reported because perpetrators intimidate the victims.
It is against this background that the university introduced an online web-based sexual harassment application for reporting, supporting and processing these cases.
Prof Bantebye said the system provides a safe space for reporting and managing the cases in a timely and efficient manner.
The online system has recorded two cases of harassment from the students against the staff, which she said are being investigated.
“Due to closure of institutions, sexual harassment cases have reduced because physical contact between staff and students has reduced. When schools reopen, we are sure we shall have more of these cases,” Prof Bantebya said.
Makerere University Council last year approved the revised anti-sexual harassment policy aimed at eliminating the rampant sexual abuse at the institution. The policy requires staff to declare love relationships with their students and bars staff from inviting students outside the university premises.
The policy also stipulates punishments for staff involved in sexual harassment, ranging from warning, suspension or dismissal.
The chairperson of the University Council, Ms Lorna Magara, asked Parliament to review some laws that contradict the institutional policies.
Ms Magara said while the university policy recommends suspension of staff involved in sexual harassment, the employment Act says one should be suspended for only three week. This she said is not enough to investigate harassment cases to get proof required to ensure a logical conclusion.