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Uganda's Makerere University Acts to Stop Sex Harassment

FILE - A general view of the main building of Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, Jan. 19, 2018.
FILE - A general view of the main building of Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, Jan. 19, 2018.

Uganda's Makerere University plans to install closed-circuit television cameras around the campus after multiple claims of sexual harassment and assault, allegedly by teachers.

Over the past several years, instructors have been accused of luring female students to private meeting so often in closed rooms — to discuss their allegedly low grades. In some cases, the instructors are accused of offering the students better grades in exchange for sex.

The Makerere University Report on the Investigation of Sexual Harassment cited a "culture of impunity that surrounds sexual harassment and rape at the university thus allows for the vice to thrive."

This has frustrated students, especially women who sometimes prefer to keep silent about incidents of sexual harassment.

Lizel Muwaya is a second-year journalism and communication student at Makerere University.

She said several students have not reported sexual harassment cases because they are poorly handled by the university authorities.

"The lecturers that are doing this, that have been reported, why aren't they being acted upon? They are tarnishing the images of other lecturers. I believe that we still have good lecturers in this university because I have seen them much as we also have those predators," Muwaya said. "But it is up to the university authorities to make sure they are dealing with these cases but they have decided to ignore them."

Makerere University has an anti-sexual harassment policy that mandates tough punishments for perpetrators. They include suspension, demotion, a written warning, and the ordering of a public apology or compensation to the aggrieved student.

However, some students says the long-standing policy has not been implemented to prevent harassment or hold the perpetrators accountable.

The university created a committee to investigate the claims and suggest reforms. After a four-month probe, the committee released its findings this week.

The panel recommended that video cameras be strategically placed to monitor meetings between professors and students. It also urged the institution review its record-keeping systems to verify grades.

The committee has given the university council one year to ensure the cameras are installed and that adequate lighting is provided throughout the campus.

University Vice Chancellor Barnabas Nawangwe, a professor, said closed-circuit television (CCTV) "cameras are good and we have a program of installing them. It is something we intend to do. But I don't think that CCTV cameras by themselves will stop the vice. I think the most important thing is to have a zero tolerance policy and to enforce it."

Phiona Kokoi, a student representative at the university, said she is optimistic the cameras will help end impunity by filming any physical harassment by lecturers against young women.

"I happened to move into so many offices of the lecturers and I didn't see any cameras there," Kokoi said. "So probably if the university can make sure that we have cameras in each and every office of the lecturers, that will provide some evidence."

Florence Nakazi, another student, said she wants cameras placed in every room where students and lecturers discuss grades. She suggests a central place to hold all discussions about grades and schoolwork.