Who will protect the woman from sexual harassment?

In a male dominated society that has its roots in culture; sexual harassment has flourished over the years. It is common place to have a woman screamed at with obscenities when walking in a market place or even simply taking a stroll in the evening.

Women have joined forces with willing men to fight the vice by coming up with policies, advocate for gender equality and though the progress has been slow, it has been there nevertheless.

In Uganda, the fight took to a new twist when a lecturer at Makerere University was exposed by local television, NBS, for exchanging sex for marks. The said lecturer cornered his female student into a sexual relation whilst promising her good grades so as they pass his class. Point to note is that the vice has been present at the university but kept under wraps by both victims and culprits which created a fertile ground for it to grow.

Sexual harassment, according to Makerere University’s 2006 sexual harassment policy, is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours or unwanted physical, verbal or nonverbal conduct of a sexual nature. Despite the existence of a policy to fight the vice, it has continued to flourish.

The Makerere University Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe acknowledged the failure of the policy to address the vice and said the University will have massive sensitization of the students in a bid to have them report cases of harassment to proper authorities.

"We are going to increase sensitization to both the staff and students because it is two-way. Sometimes it begins with the students when they entice lecturers," he said.

An investigations committee, led by 
Prof. Sylvia Tamale was created to tackle the vice at the institution.

The developments came just a few days ahead of the International Women's Day that is celebrated every 8th March in a bid to bring the much needed awareness of the vice that has been eating at the helm of one of Africa's best University.

To mark the day, Makerere University School of Women and Gender Studies with support from the Embassy of Sweden organized a conversation on sexual harassment at Makerere University during the Gender Identity week. In her Presentation, Prof. Sylvia Tamale used the #MeToo campaign a Twitter hash tag to explain the magnitude of the vice, as well as show support to the victims of harassment. 

The campaign trended globally via social media, in particular Twitter with celebrities stepping out to show support but also share their stories about sexual harassment in schools or institutions of learning and the work place in a bid to fight against the vice. While closing the week's activities, Prof. Tamale stressed that harassment doesn't occur due to indecent dressing as the common chauvinist thinking goes but rather because men think they are entitled to women's bodies.

"Men sexualize our bodies all the time, they got this sense of entitlement to women’s bodies so they feel they have power to own our bodies and even if you fully cover your body, a predator will still harass you,” she said before adding, "I have been in this struggle for over two decades and as the chairperson of the committee we are going to fight these sex predators to the extent that they start shaking in their pants.”

Prof. Sarah N. Ssali, Dean School of women and Gender Studies noted that her office is open to address any forms of sexual harassment and assured victim of protection. “As the Dean as well as Council member, I will not tolerate any form of sexual harassment. I implore you to speak up against any form of harassment and we shall bring all culprits to book,” she emphasized. 

Despite the strides made at Makerere, it important to note that sexual harassment exists straight from homes, schools or institutions of learning and the work place.

Despite the campaign against the vice, victims still keep mum. Jonathan Kamoga, one of the Twitter users of the #MeToo campaign called out to victims to come forward and tell their stories. "You sexual harassment victims of Makerere University and those of you experiencing the vice at work or elsewhere, where is the #MeToo movement? By now, you should be coming out one by one telling us your stories. How then are we supposed to wipe out the vice nga musilika busirisi?" he wrote.

Question is, are women who have been sexually harassed in Uganda, be it at home, in schools or at their work places willing to come out and share their experiences? Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe, Makerere University Vice Chancellor said the ongoing sensitization will help students regain confidence in the university to protect them against sexual predators. 

In January, a report released by an independent committee mandated by President Museveni said that over 50% of female and about 40% of male students interviewed at Makerere called sexual harassment a major cause of discontent on campus. The report further said that in some colleges, sexual harassment was "rampant" and "had become the norm".

Yet who will protect the wife at home, the students in other institutions of learning which have not come to the limelight, who will protect that woman at work?