[Svrilist] Ugandan efforts against sexual violence on campuses

svrilist at mrc.ac.za svrilist at mrc.ac.za
Tue May 2 23:23:13 SAST 2006


Colleagues: I thought the following might interest you.

Sincerely,

Lisa Fontes, Ph.D.


EDUCATION


 


'Carpet Grades' Are Target of Ugandan Bias Policy


By Rachel Scheier
WeNews correspondent

Maria Gorette KaruhangaKAMPALA, Uganda (WOMENSENEWS)--The miniskirts worn by
undergraduates at Makerere University have been blamed for everything from
AIDS to the disintegration of the African family.

That's one reason why eyebrows were raised when a handful of activists
suggested that young female college students were more often victims, thanks
to their sexuality, than the other way around.

The practice of male lecturers at Makerere demanding sex from female
students in exchange for diplomas and "carpet" grades--indicating where the
transaction takes place--is well known. But recently, some administrators
and women's advocates at the university quietly drafted a sexual harassment
policy to address the problem. If it is approved--which could happen as soon
as May--it would be among the first of its kind in an African institution of
higher learning.

"This is an issue that we have just started talking about in Uganda," said
Maria Gorette Karuhanga, a human rights lawyer who helped draft the policy.
"In the absence of any document--any legal policy--people have no basis to
challenge anything. This is also a challenge to the administration to
address this problem, which is tarnishing the image of the university."

Makerere, once known as the Harvard of Africa, is the alma mater of
generations of prominent names from around the continent. But the university
fell into disrepair during the 1970s, when dictator Idi Amin took power in
Uganda, and it has yet to regain its stature. While some programs are still
prestigious, Makerere undergraduates must endure overcrowded classes and
second-rate facilities. Lost exams and delayed diplomas are common.


Education Financed With Sugar


On a recent afternoon, the rolling, eucalyptus-dotted hills of the Makerere
campus were crowded with students rushing to class. On the walls of the
canteen, where some sat munching french fries, was a sign posted by an AIDS
prevention group admonishing, "Say No to Sugar Daddies," a reference to
another well-known practice of young female students taking older, richer
boyfriends to pay for tuition, books and mobile phones.

In 2004, an affirmative action program for women at the university won
funding to conduct a survey to gather information on a number of issues,
including sexual harassment. It concluded that while female students at
Makerere were most often the victims of sexual harassment, female lecturers,
secretaries and even maids employed by the college were also frequently
denied promotions, pay and decent treatment if they refused to have sex with
their male superiors. But those who experience sexual harassment almost
always remain silent, it concluded, because they fear retribution or assume
that speaking out is futile.

In a local newspaper story published last year, female students--who make up
about 42 percent of the student body--complained of being routinely
propositioned by lecturers during office hours. One said her teacher
demanded that she accompany him to a Lake Victoria beach to discuss her
grade. Dormitory residents said that custodians are known to withhold beds
if girls don't give them sex. One woman said an admissions officer would not
allow her to enroll in a master's program because she refused his advances.

Economics are, of course, a major factor in the university social climate,
says Karuhanga, in which sex is often seen as the only ticket to success a
young woman has. Women come from all over Uganda to attend Makerere, where
the great majority of teachers, administrators and other staff members are
men. Many female students are sent by rural families who barely make enough
to feed themselves. Promised scholarship money often doesn't materialize.
Extended families who are struggling to provide for their own children often
can't provide enough.


Sengas Sell Advice to Girls


Karuhanga also attributes the problem to Uganda's deeply patriarchal
culture, which still teaches that men are superior and allowed to demand
what they want. In the tradition of the Baganda, Uganda's largest tribe,
young girls learn about sex from sengas, or aunts. Today, professional
sengas go door to door in the dormitories at Makerere, selling advice, love
potions and charms. They also teach that a proper wife is submissive to her
husband. Tradition discourages women from speaking out against ill treatment
by men.

Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.One of the few who did was a Makerere
graduate who later took a job working as an administrator in the
university's school of fine arts. She had kept silent, she told Karuhanga,
when, as a student, she was given a mediocre grade by a teacher whose
invitations she had refused. Several years later, by now a Makerere
employee, she was suspended for insubordination when she rebuffed her male
boss. This time, she complained to the university disciplinary committee.
The case is still pending, but Karuhanga believes it illustrates why a
formal sexual harassment policy, as well as a campaign to build awareness
about the problem, is needed.

"They were a bit hostile," said Karuhanga. "The assumption is that this
happened because the woman called for it."

If approved, the new policy would generally define sexual harassment as any
unwanted advance. It would put in place a committee of student and staff
representatives to hear complaints confidentially and investigate
allegations. Harassers would be reprimanded, disciplined or dismissed,
depending on the seriousness of the offense.


Lukewarm Response


So far, it has drawn a lukewarm response from the mostly male senior
administrators at Makerere. The proposal is scheduled to go before the
University Senate at its next meeting in May.

"Of course, some of these men are just going to say, 'Oh, these women are
out to get us,'" said Assistant Registrar Evelyn Nyakoojo, one of the
architects of the draft policy. "But we are not attacking anyone. We don't
want to put anyone on the defensive."

On the other hand, the climate may be right to push the issue. Few employers
have formal rules against sexual harassment in Uganda. But last month,
Parliament passed new labor laws for the first time since the 1970s, after
pressure from the United States that threatened to exclude the country from
the African Growth and Opportunities Act, a program that provides incentives
to encourage trade with the U.S. Among other things, the new legislation
outlaws sexual harassment in the workplace.

Even if the policy is approved, Karuhanga admits, enforcing it will be
another matter. But she believes just getting it on the books will send an
important message. "It will move us a step forward," she said. "This whole
thing is an advocacy tool. For people to know that something is boiling."

Rachel Scheier is a freelance writer based in Kampala.

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors at womensenews.org.

  _____  


For more information:


Makerere University:
http://www.makerere.ac.ug/

Uganda Women's Network:
http://www.uwonet.org

International Network for Higher Education in Africa:
http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/soe/cihe/inhea/profiles.htm

 

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