Dealing with sexual harassment in Kampala

Dealing with sexual harassment in Kampala
According to the sexual assault prevention and awareness center in the University of Michigan, sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favor that may be offensive, humiliating, and unwanted. COURTESY PHOTO/JIRANI

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Despite the implementation of several campaigns targeting to eliminate sexual harassment in Uganda, the vice is alive in various city areas. It isn’t uncommon to see men hissing or suggestively touching the bums of women in the streets, market, garage and Taxi Park among other places.

In Kisenyi, one of the Kampala suburbs several female food vendors are exposed to sexual harassment. At “Nalongo’s” one of the eateries, a male customer lying on his back on one of the benches summons a young waitress probably in her early twenties.

As she walks towards him, the young man stands up, grabs her hand and pulls her over almost falling to his chest. He holds her by the waist, releases her and taps her private parts suggestively. The girl laughs off sheepishly before walking back to the kitchen.

Those around aren’t moved by the incident and go on with their business as usual. It is a common occurrence that no longer raises eyebrows. This is one of the forms of sexual harassment, a behavior that the United Nations defines as any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favor, verbal or physical conduct or gesture of a sexual nature, or any other behavior of a sexual nature that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offence or humiliation to another, when such conduct interferes with work, is made a condition of employment or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

It manifests in different forms including sexual comments about a person’s clothing, anatomy, or looks, hissing sounds, howling, and smacking lips, whistling at someone, cat calls, sexual comments, actual or attempted rape or sexual assault. Sexual harassment also includes unwanted pressure for sexual favors, deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, or pinching and unwanted sexual looks or gestures among others.

“Some men think they own women, like women should be at their service all the time. Those forced hugs, the tapping and touching, it is really irritating,” One lady said when asked about sexual harassment. The constitution of Uganda protects the dignity of every one. In fact, no person should be subjected to any form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment according to the law. This includes respect of a person to their psychological or mental wellbeing.

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However, Gender Based Violence and specifically sexual harassment is still evident in most parts of the country. According to the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) report 2018 titled “Understanding culpability for sexual harassment in Uganda,” Sexual harassment is inextricably linked to power and often takes place in societies, which treat women as sex objects and second-class citizens.

In Uganda, sexual harassment happens at work places like offices and public places like markets, streets and parks. While no category of men can be pinned to be responsible, the vice is so prevalent among Boda boda riders, taxi operators, mechanics and market or shop operators in towns.

Some throw comments at women as they invite them to their shops or rides. Others merely throw comments haphazardly. Cyrus Byaruhanga, a taxi driver in Kisenyi Taxi Park blames the vice on upbringing and people’s origin. He argues that rather than make unpleasant statements, men should approach women in a respectful manner once interested in them.

Fred Ssenyonjo, also a taxi driver and head of Kawempe stage in Kisenyi Taxi Park describes sexual harassment as disrespectful and humiliating act that men should shun. Ssenyonjo says that as a taxi park, they have decided to enforce sanity and discipline among their members.

To cub all this and ensure that the city is safe and friendly for girls and women to operate Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) through funding from UN Women is proposing to implement the Safe Cities And Safe Public Spaces project.

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The project will contribute to sustainable development goal number five, which aims at achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. The goal of the project is to reduce Sexual Harassment and Violence Against Women and Girls (SVAWG) in the city.

KCCA will conduct Women’s Safety Audit in collaboration with key stake holders and leaders of the informal sector communities (Market) to identify threats, develop measures to reduce these risks, conduct semiannual dialogues with city leaders, to promote positive, masculinities, zero tolerance for violence against women and girls, sexual harassment and alcohol abuse in the city and also conduct joint sensitization dialogues for police, market controllers and security guards on preventing and responding to sexual harassment and violence against women.

Read Also: Uganda police female officers decry sexual harassment

KCCA also plans to work with the police to promote neighborhood watch programmes through community/market policing, night patrols, increasing police visibility in strategic areas/hot spots of high crime risks informed by the Women’s Safety Audit and also conduct heightened advocacy on the public safety of women and girls and elimination of sexual harassment. KCCA will also use a campaign dubbed “HeForShe” to promote positive masculinities and zero tolerance for violence against women and girls, sexual harassment and violence.