Sexual harassment in the Context of an Academic Environment;
A case of Makerere University
Amon Ashaba Mwiine
School of Women and Gender Studies,
Understanding sexual Harassment
Sexuality is a crucial issue in in feminism because aggression and the need to dominate form a routine part of what is acceptable as normal male sexuality (Tong, 1989; 110)
Male violence against women is normalized and legitimized in sexual practices through the assumption that when it comes to sex, men are by nature aggressive and dominant, whereas women are by nature passive and submissive (Tong, 1989; 110).
Sexual harassment is embedded in the bigger discourse of human sexuality, gender discrimination, Gender inequalities, and unequal power relations. Sexual harassment may occur between equals, but most often occurs in situations when one person has power over another
It is about the imposition of sexual requirements in the context of a relationship of unequal power. At the heart of this social vice is the (ab)use of power derived from one social sphere to salvage benefits for the self or impose deprivation on the other.
Sexual harassment is also about the abuse of power and an assault on one’s right to dignity, respect and freedom.
Makerere University, in its policy and Regulations on Sexual Harassment Prevention (2006) defines SH as
….unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours or unwanted physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.
Such conduct would constitute sexual harassment when:
(a) Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment or academic achievement or advancement; or
(b) Submission to or rejection of such conduct as used or threatened or insinuated to be used as the basis for decisions affecting the employment and/or the academic standing of an individual; or
(c) Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance or creating an intimidating, threatening, hostile or offensive working or learning environment.
The social Nature of SH
The social settings (institutional structures of the family, schools, religious settings, the media or the state) create particular social values, normative standards and expectations about women and men’s sexuality. The images through which we would want to see women and men sometimes (and at that, most times) become avenues where sexes are perceived differently. Although difference in values, perceptions, and expectations have no problem in themselves, they at times manifest in form of inequalities amongst women and men – Gender inequalities
Expectations, values and norms in areas of how one should dress, appear what one should say or not say become active sites of abuse. All these encompass our sexuality – or the social processes by which society/ individuals create, organize, express, and direct sexual desires.
Sexuality also becomes a form of power and a basis for gender inequality in terms of who is expected to behave or not behave in a particular manner. All the expectations are different for women and for men.
Issues of sexuality and sexual harassment in particular are mostly centered on our bodies – the way they appear, the way they are visualized and perceived. Unfortunately the contemporary visual images of women and also of men in certain cases carry a lot of sexual meanings – almost everything is sexualized; Dress code; Language; food; Careers, etc.
We are leaving an environment that is getting highly sexualized – and everything we see must have a sexual meaning.
“All of a sudden people become sexy, dress sexy, they are hot, they are sleeping their way out to…., That chick is hot, the sexiest women in Kampala, the most beautiful MPs in the 8th or 9th Parliament, etc.” all this creates a conducive environment for abuse of sexual nature. When all these are normalized expectations, we struggle to conform and end up abusing or being abused.
Nature/form, cause, and manifestation
Can one know that they are being sexually harassed?
SH takes various forms, ranging from verbal, visual of physical forms. In a university context, this may include a person in position of power (e.g. a lecturer) demanding sex in return for better grades. In this case, failing to yield sexually may lead to victimization –e.g. in form of poor grades, missing mark, or any other form of harassment. (see case in The Gender concepts handbook, Mak. 2007)
In another case, as a young graduate in search of a job, a person in a position of influence may demand sex as a favor in return for a job. This becomes even worse in an environment where there are high numbers of potential employees with comparably fewer jobs.
There could be other cases where students could exploit such a practice of sexual harassment for their favor. For example a female with poor grades may use the context to provide the lecturer sexual favors to have free marks or have their marks upgraded (see case in The Gender concepts handbook, Mak.)
In rare cases, females in position of power can sexually harass their male subordinates such as students, house helpers, drivers, etc.
These can be grave to individuals but also institutions.
SH compromises the University’s integrity, as well as its tradition of intellectual freedom (Mak, 2006).
Sexual Harassment compromises the abilities of the harasser and the harassed to rationally function. For the student, the low self-esteem that comes as a result may have a n impact on one’s academic concentration, performance and excellence.
The thinking that “You slept with…” is disorienting and may tarnish one’s image in the public eye. It robs you of your worth.
It robs individuals of their bodily integrity, equality and it is discriminative in nature. E.G. getting a job on sexual grounds may introduce a non –formal criterion of your future assessment. Suppose you qualify to be promoted, do you ‘sleep’ again?
SH distorts the environment of equality of all persons, dignity and non-discrimination.
It creates a sense of fear among those who are victimized, it leads to psychological disturbances.
Solutions to Sexual harassment range from moralist argument to appreciating each other as equal human beings worth of our rights as humans
- Are we aware of the policy environment on SH?? Can we tell when we are sexually harassed, Identify, report cases of sexual abuse for institutional support
- Gender equality? How do we appreciate ourselves as equal beings of self-worth? How do we perceive and portray women in positive images – How do we move beyond the sexualized images of ourselves in the media, and other societal spaces?
- Sometimes people use their sexuality in unhealthy ways to influence, control or tease another person. Women are often objects of sexual abuse. But Men can also be victims of sexual abuse. The sexual beliefs about men’s prowess may disadvantage men who overstretch their capacity, in trying to be “men”.
- Identify, report cases of sexual abuse for institutional support
- How do we build the build the capacities of young women and men to have alternative spheres of appreciating themselves rather than our bodies?
- How do we develop a sense of responsibility amongst ourselves – How can we avoid those scenarios that are likely to compromise us and make us vulnerable? “results have spent a whole semester on the notice board but you have not checked, you do not know whether ua registration numbers was correctly written, out of the 10 lectures you have attended 2 or none?
I joined Makerere University, Gender Studies in 2001 after the course on gender had spent two years running (since it started in 1999). My choice of gender as a discipline was largely driven by the thinking that since it was a new subject, there was going to be more job opportunities therein compared to the already existing disciplines. I must confess that this changed over time and was no longer really the driving force. The biggest challenge I was confronted with as a male doing gender studies was when I travelled back home after semester one for a holiday. An old man in my village asked me, “why of all people, are you wasting state funds and an opportunity to move from a rural area to a capital city university to study women? If you really wanted to know who women are, you should have come to me and I would have told you who they are and what they do”. This was one of the many covert and overt resistances I had to bear as a man in gender studies.
The misconception of Gender as women and gender studies supposed to be for women was a heavy burden that made most of the male colleagues to always explain themselves as to why we were “doing Women” studies.
I successfully graduated in 2005 and was even more motivated to gender studies than ever before. I enrolled for Master of Arts Gender studies in 2007, in the same school of Women and Gender Studies which I completed in a record of two years. In my MA class, we were 3 males and 17 female students. All the males and almost all the females have all graduated. The SWGS offered to retain and nurture me in this discipline and am grateful because in 2012 I was recruited as an Assistant Lecturer. In this year, my pursuit for gender equality moves on with my beginning of a PhD with a focus on Masculinities and Women’s Political Participation. My choice of such a PhD area of study is really because of the misconception we have had over time, men and women questioning men who choose to study Gender. It’s an attempt to understand men more, how they are constructed and also have a broader understanding of gender relations.
Being in gender studies has always felt like walking on “two paths at the same time” because as a gender scholar you have always got to understand that gender perspective in other conventional disciplines. It’s been a great experience. My Experience is not all that can be told about studentship in Gender Studies at Makerere university, but it is an important aspect of the whole story.
Mr. Amon Ashaba Mwiine;
Alumnus of Gender Studies,
School of Women and Gender Studies,