ARUA. Poor dressing code is the single most factor fueling sexual harassment in higher institutions of learning in Uganda, a senior lecturer from the school of women and gender studies at Makerere University has said.
Dr Edith Okiria said her findings were based on recent research she conducted about the cause of sexual harassment in higher institutions of learning.
She was speaking during a training on strengthening gender equity in higher institutions of learning in East Africa held at Muni University last week.
Okiria said although the vice is mostly being attributed to ladies being harassed, males are also being sexually harassed by ladies in a way they dress because the dressing code exposes their body parts which she said is a cross-cutting factor.
“The issue is, do people understand sexual harassment? Sometimes sexual harassment does not appear to be the way it is perceived,” she said.
Okiria said her research has shown sexual harassment being more among students than between lecturers and students because some students also induce lecturers and the opposite is when a lecturer teases a student to fail if he or she does not give in.
She said although many African cultures prohibit immorality like sexual harassment, the vice has continued to contribute to gender discrimination and gender subordination because some men enjoy watching exposed bodies of women for their personal reasons.
She added that many men who like commenting on women’s body think it is funny or a normal thing to do yet it can be offensive to the other party (the lady) hence forming another form of sexual harassment.
“If a girl passes by a man and he comments, the lady may take it as a complementary appreciation to her beauty, where else another lady may feel offended basing on the culture of people in a particular community”, she stressed.
Other forms of harassment, she said include men rubbing themselves on women without having a mutual understanding and speaking vulgar language referring to the opposite sex which people do not understand.
Okiria suggested that sexual harassment be defined within an understandable context based on the perception of a particular population especially at institutional and community levels without generalization.
She said the challenge of how to overcome the vice is that the “harassed” do not complain to relevant authorities after the incidences.
The dean of students of Muni University, Ms Stella Amandru Wawa said the vice creates a lot of trauma and stigma among students, a factor that makes it difficult for them to open up about the harassment.
She noted that many institutions of learning do not have safe places to enable victims to disclose such problems because of lack of policies to protect victims.