Dr Josephine Ahikire, an associate professor of Gender Studies and the Acting Principal of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHUSS), says that the victims of sexual harassment have not yet embraced the available mechanisms to report the vice.
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Efforts of addressing sexual harassment at Makerere University is
not succeeding due to lack of trust by the students.
Dr Josephine Ahikire, an associate professor of Gender Studies and the Acting
Principal of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHUSS), says that the
victims of sexual harassment have not yet embraced the available mechanisms to
report the vice.
In December 2018, Makerere University Council made revisions in the
institution’s “zero tolerance” policy on sexual harassment, which places the
burden of proof on the perpetrators.
The Policy and Regulations against Sexual Harassment; and the Safer
Universities Project was subsequently launched in August 2019. It also
provides for 100 members of the Vice Chancellor’s Standing Roster to investigate
sexual harassment cases.
Despite this progress, Professor Ahikire says that students now prefer to
remain silent withhold for fear of victimization.
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Judith Nalukwago, a third-year student of Dental Surgery who also doubles as
the Vice Guild President of Makerere University says whereas the revised policy
is good, it doesn’t address the power relations, which tend to be the main
enabling factor in the vice.
She says lecturers still wield a lot of power to determine to fate of a
student’s academic excellence meaning that in case a student rejects any
advances, they are likely to be disadvantaged by their position.
According to Nalukwago, allowing affected students to be marked by external
examiners and switch of lecturers in case of harassment reports would not only
increase trust in the process but also be ideal in protecting against the
victimization of the victims.
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Last year, at the height of the Makerere University students, strike against
the fees hike, there were allegations of sexual abuse on students by the
security personnel, arising out of the mismanagement and abdication of duty by
the university management.
Parliament subsequently resolved and directed the Committee on Education and
Sports to investigate allegations.
The committee in its December report established that despite its efforts to
identify students that were allegedly sexually abused, it was visibly noted
that they were not ready to come out in the public, and as such, there was no
substantial evidence that came forth from any member of the students' community.
The Parliamentary Committee disclosed that trust and confidentiality issues
were tested during this period and established there was a wide gap between
management and students arising out of bad relations. These according to
legislators’ limit chances of students opening up.
Another school of thought advanced by Ahikire is that the administrators are
torn between making the critical discerning decisions against their staff
colleagues at times when there is no concrete evidence.
She says there is need for further engagement on how balance between
collegiality and decisiveness.
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Nalukwago argues that students look at opening up on sexual harassment
issues as an embarrassment which comes with isolation, victimization and
sometimes the institution fails to protect the victims.