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.