A damning report on sexual harassment at Uganda’s Makerere University says that lecturers are frequently abusing their positions of power to exploit female students, often threatening to fail women who do not give in to their demands.
The report, presented to the vice-chancellor on 25 June, urges university management to “do everything within its powers” to eradicate sexual harassment at the institution.
The committee conducted the survey after six students accused a former assistant lecturer at the university of sexual harassment earlier this year. The committee interviewed students and staff from the university’s 10 colleges and its main administrative units.
The report found that some male examiners “deliberately omit female students’ results from the class list in order to get the students into their offices and to exploit them”.
“This is when quid pro quo sexual harassment takes place; a process where one’s employment or academic advancement is premised upon submission to sexual advances,” the report says.
Abusers also take advantage of the vulnerability of some poor students or those who are performing badly in their studies, it says.
A culture of silence has pervaded the university for the past decade and contributed to the cover-up of sexual harassment cases, according to the committee. Despite awareness of many “notorious perpetrators”, culprits are rarely held to account because peers cover up for their colleagues, it says.
The committee also notes that the university environment has a “patriarchal culture which stereotypes females as sexual objects”.
Some respondents interviewed tried to blame women’s “provocative dress styles” as partly responsible for sexual harassment. However, the committee rejects this claim, saying that there is no relationship between clothes and sexual harassment.
The report makes a series of recommendations to the university, which include increasing support for victims and implementing training for staff. It also adds that affirmative action is needed to increase the number of women working at the university.
Barnabas Nawangwe, Makerere's vice-chancellor, said: “The message is clear, we are committed to stamping out this vice by ensuring that our policies reiterate our zero tolerance towards sexual harassment and make it risky for anyone to engage in it.”