Makerere University has launched an online system to address sexual harassment in Higher Education Institutions in Uganda. The system codenamed “Kicking Sexual Harassment out of Higher Education Institutions (KISH) was launched by the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe on 7th October 2020. It was developed by members of staff from the School of Women and Gender Studies in collaboration with information technology experts from the College of Computing and Information Sciences, following a baseline survey conducted early this year to assess the status of sexual harassment at Makerere. The overall aim of the online platform (kish.mak.ac.ug) is to support the processing of sexual harassment cases in a confidential and safe space. Through the system, the victim is able to privately upload evidence against the accused and monitor progress of the investigations. The system also provides an online course to sensitize staff and students on the different forms of sexual harassment and the support mechanisms for victims.
The online service is part of the activities of an ongoing action-oriented project being undertaken by the School of Women and Gender Studies in collaboration with the School of Psychology and the School of Computing and Information Technology at Makerere University, as well as the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Kyambogo University to kick sexual harassment out of higher education institutions. The project titled, "Whole University Approach: Kicking Sexual Harassment out of Higher Education Institutions in Uganda (KISH)" is supported by the Government of Uganda through the Makerere Research and Innovations Fund (RIF). It seeks to enhance staff and students’ knowledge and life skills for prevention and response to sexual harassment. Besides the online platform for managing sexual harassment cases, the project intends to set up clubs to provide space for female students to acquire knowledge about prevention and reporting systems for sexual harassment. The project will also establish a men’s hub to actively engage male staff and students in the fight against sexual harassment.
Presenting the findings of the baseline survey at the launch of the KISH online platform, the researchers led by Prof. Grace Bantebya Kyomuhendo and Dr Florence Muhanguzi Kyoheirwe attributed the persistent cases of sexual harassment at Makerere University to unequal power relations and the weak and inadequate implementation of the existing policies, compounded by the survivors ignorance about their rights, mechanisms for redress and policy procedures. According to the researchers, the existing policies and structures for addressing sexual harassment are reportedly not staff and student friendly.
Addressing participants, Makerere University Vice Chancellor, Prof. Barnabas welcomed the KISH project as a timely intervention that will enhance Management’s efforts towards stamping out sexual harassment at Makerere. “Previously, the victims of sexual harassment have not been courageous enough to report the perpetrators. The online platform will greatly instill confidence in the victims to report cases of harassment,” he noted, re-echoing his stand on zero tolerance for sexual harassment at Makerere. “We have to create an atmosphere conducive for all stakeholders to thrive in whatever they do. No one can explore their full potential when experiencing acts of sexual harassment,” he said. The Vice Chancellor implored the researchers to extend the programme to lower education institutions in the country. He thanked the Government of Uganda for the support rendered towards research at Makerere University. The government has so far given Makerere University UGX45 billion to support high impact Research and Innovations that inform National Development Priorities.
In his remarks read by Dr Josephine Nabukenya, the Chair of the Grant Management Committee, Prof. William Bazeyo appreciated Prof. Bantebya and team for developing a system that will further aid the University’s efforts in kicking sexual harassment out of higher education institutions in Uganda. Other members of the research team are Dr Julius Kikooma, Acting Deputy Principal, College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHUSS); Prof. Gilbert Maiga; Dr. Elizabeth Kyazike, Dean Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Kyambogo University; and Dr Joab Ezra Agaba (KISH online system Development Consultant).
Narrating her experience, the Deputy Country Representative, UN Women, Ms. Adenkemi Ndieli decried sexual harassment as a rude and demeaning behavior that psychologically hurts the victims. “In the context of educational institutions, sexual harassment disrupts students’ ability to learn and succeed in their studies and has a damaging impact on the educational experience of many students. The far-reaching effects of such damage is best imagined when it is recognized that students’ experiences in school shape their live’s values and behavior,” she explained, calling for a holistic approach to stamping out sexual harassment in education institutions.
The Principal of CHUSS, Dr Josephine Ahikire called for tougher measures in addressing sexual harassment in education institutions. “Sexual harassment is escalated by organization cultures that condone abuse. As a University, we have a duty to create a safe environment for our learners and staff. We do not have to be slippery about sexual harassment. The perpetrators should be brought to book,” she said. Dr Ahikire acknowledged the University Management’s support in the fight against sexual harassment and other forms of abuse.
See details on the project below