News that Justice Lydia Mugambe has given Makerere University two weeks to file its defence against a law suit on sexual harassment should be applauded given that last week on Fasifasi show we discussed this topic. According to the news article, a former student of the University has sued the varsity administration for failing to protect her from sexual harassment which traumatized her.
In Uganda, fewer women are willing to report sexual harassment to authorities or even talk about it openly. Sometimes the victim of sexual harassment is blamed. This discourages more women to come out to publicly say they experienced sexual harassment.
Yet sexual harassment is a prevalent vice in Uganda. Although there is a law on sexual harassment tacked in the 2006 Employment Act, many working women continuously face harassment from unscrupulous men. Some husbands have gone ahead to stop their wives from working in the formal sector under the guise of protecting them against sexual harassment.
What Uganda’s law says…
- Sexual harassment is prohibited under the laws.
- Each employer employing more than 25 workers is required to have in place measures to prevent sexual harassment occurring at their workplace usually referred to as a “Sexual Harassment Policy”.
- Failure to have such a policy by the Employer work is unlawful and could result in a penalty.
Frequency of sexual harassment in Uganda
- Every day, women and men in Uganda are sexually harassed, at the workplace, in the taxi parks, on the bus, on the street, and even sadly, in their homes.
- Women continue to tell of stories of how their superiors at workplaces demand that they sleep with them before they can get a promotion.
- At university campuses, girls find themselves having to ward off young and old men who feel entitled to sex just because he bought her a plate of chips and chicken.
- The issue is also that Uganda is a patriarchal society. The culture and systems generally see to it that men are treated as more superior beings, whose every whim needs to be pleased.
The 2016 Uganda Demographic Household Survey shows that sexual violence happens more to women than men.
“Women in Uganda are more than twice as likely to experience sexual violence as men. More than 1 in 5 women age 15-49 (22 percent) report that they have experienced sexual violence at some point in time compared with fewer than 1 in 10 (8 percent) men. Thirteen percent of women and 4 percent of the men reported experiencing sexual violence in the 12 months preceding the survey. Women age 15-19 are less likely (5 percent) to report recent experience of sexual violence age than older women (13-16 percent.”
Sexual harassment happens in higher offices as well. For example:
- In 2014, Kampala Woman MP Nabillah Naggayi Sempala said female legislators are sexually harassed by their male counterparts.
- In 2013, year Proscovia Alengot, one the youngest female MPs in the 9th parliament claimed she too was being sexually harassed.
The victims of sexual harassment are not just women. Men too also claim they are sexually harassment although women experience more incidences of sexual harassment than men.
- A 2008 survey by New Vision newspaper found that 30% of male Makerere University lecturers were sexually harassed by the students.
- According to the survey, the forms of harassment were manifested in indecent dressing, sexual innuendos, etc. “78% of lecturers complained that the girls were deliberately dressing indecently or exposing their body parts, while 40% said girls made unnecessary visits to their offices. Lecturers also reported that female students winked at them (34%), deliberately.” brushed their bodies against them (22%), tickled their palms (16%) and stroked their breasts while speaking to them.
- Few Ugandans know of Employment (Sexual Harassment) Regulations, 2012, and dimensions of sexual harassment. Most Ugandans equate harassment to only touching private parts, especially of women. Yet harassment applies to any verbal or physical abuse or behaviour that unreasonably interferes with work or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
- Weak law. Sexual harassers can be convicted under Regulation 19 to a Shs120,000 fine or imprisonment for up to three months, or both.
- A Master’s Degree thesis on sexual harassment in Uganda police by Samuel Kyomukama found out that women police officers experienced sexual harassment but rarely reported it as harassment. When the harassment became unbearable the victim policewomen would ask to retire from the police force.
- Sadly,sexual harassment at the workplace still goes unnoticed, and is often swept under the carpet because the victims fear losing their jobs or being victimized.
Nevertheless, we all have to speak out on sexual harassment. Report the perpetrators to police. The police officers should handle cases of sexual harassment faster and humanely.