By Allan Kinani
The Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC), a faith based ecumenical organisation made a presentation to the Parliamentary Select Committee on inquiry into allegations of sexual violence in institutions of learning in Uganda. The nine member committee which was constituted by Parliament, chaired by Hon. Rwaboojo Monica continues to meet key stakeholders on this issue in a bid to reach the core of the problem that is manifesting in many institutions of learning in the country.
Reverend Constantine Mbonabingyi told the committee that in 2014, UJCC launched a project entitled The Gender Justice Project which focused on mitigating Gender Based Violence. The council worked with four universities namely Gulu University, Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda Martyrs University and Uganda Christian University to ascertain the existence of sexual harassment in high institution of learning. The council admitted that it was hard for students and teaching staff to open up about this issue.
UJCC found out that all the four Universities did not have a Sexual Harassment Policies and this increased the vulnerability of both students and teachers. The Universities did not have clear referral pathways in case of sexual harassment. The council also observed that sexual harassment was a wide spread immoral activity across the Universities and that both males and females were affected but mostly the females. They further observed that sexual harassment is more common during the time of the academic year when students are tasked to undertake research because this is when they are closest to their supervisors.
The UJJC within their capacity was able to structure some interventions in these Universities, from helping students to form associations to fight sexual harassment to helping these Universities come up with gender policies. However, they advised the committee on some of the causes and extents of the vice, stressing that poverty, dressing codes that are provocative, poor lighting systems in schools, commercialised hostel services where boys and girls stay in the same residence are among many the immediate causes of the vice and why it perpetuates in schools.
On recommendations to the committee, the council appreciated the fact that government has come up with policies and laws to combat sexual violence but stressed that the implementation of these policies is still lacking. They urged the government to accord support services to victims of sexual violence citing that provision of psychological support and counselling services will do much in rehabilitating victims.
They further urged government to sensitize learners in institutions to open up about sexual violence when it happens to them, and also requested government to address the laws governing pornography and mass media. They also called out for institutions of learning to have sexual harassment policies and make deliberate efforts to popularize the policies and make them known to all intended beneficiaries.
The chairperson of the committee on behalf of Parliament thanked the UJCC for the presentation and the work they are doing to mitigate sexual violence in institutions of learning and communities. The chairperson further elaborated on the daunting task that is in front of them to fight this evil that is escalating and damaging many peoples future. The committee continues to do public hearing with key stakeholders and are expected to produce a report on their findings and way forward.