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Mak Students Not Trusting Zero Tolerance Policy On Sexual Harassment

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.
A snip shot of Makerere University Regulations on Sexual Harassment.

Audio 4

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. 

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