By Jeff Andrew Lule
KAMPALA - Women activists in Uganda have embarked on a nationwide campaign against sexual harassment at workplaces.
The campaign organized under the National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) is supported by the Dutch government.
It will be supported through the Netherlands Wage Indicator Foundation (NWIF).
The one-year drive aims at sensitizing and creating awareness among employers and employees about sexual harassment on the job.
A senior lecturer of Makerere University, Prof. Sylvia Tamale said it is a “timely strategy to campaign against this act”.
Speaking at the launch of the campaign in Kampala, Tamale underlined the need for a reporting mechanism at workplaces where cases can be reported without fear.
She said: “Many perpetrators go unpunished due to lack of evidence while majority of victims fear to report in fear of losing their jobs.”
The drive was launched at Ureka Hotel in Ntinda on Friday.
Tamale, who lectures at the law school, attributed the high number of cases of sexual harassment to the patriarch system – where men are said to dominate everything and are believed to only look at women as sexual objects.
“Men look at women as sex objects. We need to change that mindset,” she said.
Participants at the launch of the campaign at Ureka Hotel in Ntinda. PHOTO/Jeff Andrew Lule
The professor said further that the law on sexual harassment is too weak to address the problem.
NOTU women chairperson, Agnes Kim Atwooki, said they receive cases where men especially the youth are being harassed by their bosses.
Mentioning that the vice is an obstacle to productivity, she said the campaign’s focus is on higher institutions of learning and companies countrywide to sensitize the employees and employers on how to combat the issue.
“This vice affects the productivity of individuals at work places. Others end up infected with sexually transmitted diseases but remain silent because of threats from the perpetrators who are always their bosses and fellow workers,” said Atwooki.
A Uganda Human Rights Defenders Association (UHRDA) survey carried last year in 2,910 organizations indicates that 90 percent of women are sexually harassed at places of work by their male seniors.
The study was carried out in companies, financial institutions, churches, health centres, universities, and in other settings.
Atwooki talked of the abuse of especially female students in universities and at places where they do their internship from.
And her stance is that many of the victims bottle up their experiences and continue to suffer from humiliation due to lack of a reporting mechanism and policy.
The women activists’ leader said government needs to put in place a strong policy to curb the problem that exists in both the formal and informal sectors.
“The current law under section 7(4) of the Employment Act 2006, outlaws the vice but applies only where an employer has more than 25 employees in his or her establishment,” she observed.