Makerere sacks six staff over sexual harassment

Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, Makerere University Vice Chancellor. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • In 2006, Makerere  University introduced a new policy on sexual harassment. 
  • In  2018, the Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, appointed a five-member committee headed by Prof Sylvia Tamale to investigate causes of increasing cases of sexual harassment, review the policy  and make recommendations.

Makerere University has sacked at least six of its staff over their involvement in sexual harassment scandals.

The six, including one non-teaching staff and other five teaching staff, were involved in scandals recorded between 2018 and 2022. 

Dr Euzobia Mugisha Baine, the director of Gender Mainstreaming Directorate at Makerere, said since 2018, her department has recorded a total of 30 cases of the  vice and of these, six cases have been dismissed, one case was acquitted, five cases were investigated to the conclusion and these involve three staff and two students, while the rest are still under  investigation.

In 2019, the university recorded six cases, which was the same case in 2021 and 2023, whereas in 2020 and 2022, the university recorded five and seven cases respectively.

Makerere defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours or unwanted physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

The forms of sexual harassment involve lecturers to lecturers, students to students as well as administrators/ lecturers to students.  

Dr Mugisha said the most reported cases are of lecturer to student and most of these cases are mostly attributed to the mismanagement of students’  marks.  The issues of missing marks have been so prevalent in previous years. 

Students said the vice is fuelled by the frequent physical meetings between  lecturers and students.

However, Dr  Mugisha said the university is now implementing an ICT-based approach whereby the lecturer uploads the marks to the students’ portal, an online system that is accessible to the university administration as well.

In 2008, the Makerere students’  guild passed a dress code policy banning mini dresses and other indecent attires.  

However,  Dr Mugisha highlighted that sexual harassment has nothing to do with one’s dress code.

“If you reduce the problem of sexual harassment to dress code, it means that you are reducing a problem in just appearance and yet when you are wearing a hijab, it does not mean that you are immune to sexual harassment,” she said.

But she said during sensitistion engagements, the directorate always encourages staff and students to dress decently so that dress code is not used as  an excuse for sexual harassment.

Speaking at a media press briefing yesterday, the University Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe,  pledged to implement new mechanisms so that victims can feel safe while  culprits get punished.

Mr Yusuf Kiranda , the university Secretary, also re-echoed the university’s strategy of zero tolerance to the vice. 

He said: “Our statistics actually show clearly that the cases of harassing students at the university are going down. The students we talk to are now safer and also feel more confident to report.”

The university has also embarked on accrediting all  hostels outside the university to curb the vice.

Out of 35,000 students at the university, only 5,000 reside in the halls of residence, others stay in hostels or communte from home.

“In general, we have been  having a good relation with the hostel owners because they offer affordable accommodation to our students. However,  we want  to formalise our relationship  by signing agreements with the hostel owners such that we can improve the welfare of our students,” Ms Winifred Kabumbuli, the Dean of students, said.

She said there are more than 70 hostels outside the university, and the administration will meet the owners next week to discuss how to improve the welfare of students and how to curb sexual harassment.