Sexual Harassment in the Employment Sector in Uganda – Patience Ayikoru writes

According to the Employment (Sexual Harassment) Regulations of Uganda, sexual harassment in employment means a direct or implicit request to an employee for sexual intercourse, sexual contact, or any other form of sexual activity. In other words, sexual harassment refers to any verbal or physical act with a sexual nature, performed in recruitment or in the workplace by a boss; manager, colleague, customer that; is unwelcomed by the person receiving it and has caused the person to feel violated, insulted, and being in an unbearable hostile environment. Sexual harassment is bullying. The key word is it is unwanted.

Sexual harassment is an offence, and a perpetrator is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding six currency points or imprisonment not exceeding three months or both. It is imperative to note that sexual harassment at workplaces happens to both the men and women, but statistics show that 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men face harassment; women face twice as much harassment in the workplace and in all other places.

Typically, sexual harassment happens in schools, in community, institutions of learning, at workplaces. Sexual harassment happens in two major ways; there is the quid pro-quo harassment; which occurs in the workplace and involves something for something demands. For example, a boss asking his or her subordinate or employee for unwanted sexual favor’s in return for a promotion. This is what sexual harassment at workplaces mainly entails. There is also hostile environment; where one makes sexual or dirty jokes, comments on physical attributes, spreading rumor’s about or rating others as to sexual activity poor performance, talking about one’s sexual activity in front of others, explicit drawings, writing material.

Sexual harassment at work exists in many other forms; to mention but a few, subtle or unwelcome flirting, requests, pressure for intimacy. The forcing of sexual attention especially if in power. The attempt to push a person from refusing. Narrating inappropriate stories or jokes which are clearly making a person/people uncomfortable. Asking for or giving inappropriate intimate information. Leering at someone’s body. Rude and demeaning gender-based comments. Pictures/pinups of an inappropriate nature. Personal comments/jokes about appearance. Sexual threats. Cyber harassment.

Power dynamics are usually at the heart of sexual harassment at workplaces. People in positions of power tend to take advantage of their juniors.

Sexual harassment also happens in the informal sector. This is something that is talked about less today. We see so much sexual harassment happening in homes to the house helps, and in marketplaces and all these are workplaces. It is also imperative to note that sexual harassment happens to sex workers as well during their work.

Today, there are several conventions that have not been ratified in Uganda and this greatly affects the country in its fight against sexual harassment. Evidence indicates that domestic violence workers face significant risks of violence and harassment. The adoption of the ILO Domestic Workers Convention (№189) and Recommendation (№201), 2011, was a major landmark resulting in extending organizing and bargaining rights for a largely female-dominated sector in many countries.

It requires effective protection of domestic workers against all forms of abuse, harassment, and violence. The International Labor Organization (ILO C190) Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment at the workplace 2019 has also not been ratified in Uganda despite various advocacy towards the urgency of this ratification by civil society. It has been 3 years now and the ILO C190 has not been ratified in the country, what would this mean to an average Ugandan?

It should be noted that sexual harassment is usually quite subtle. It manifests in actions that are often brushed off because both men and women have been socialized to accept and expect some behavior’s that amount to sexual harassment.

Much as the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda provides for the protection of the right to human dignity, specific laws in Uganda do not protect people from sexual harassment in the workplaces. It is only the Employment Act that tries to end the vice, but it is also lacking. It provides that sexual harassment can only be employed by an employer or an agent of the employer. What does that mean? It means that if my fellow workmate harasses me that is not considered as sexual harassment under the Employment Act, I think that is ridiculous.

The other challenge with the employment Act has to do with the number of employers and employees a company must have before it can have a sexual harassment policy. It provides that all institutions and workplaces must have a sexual harassment policy if they have 25 employees or more. In other words, small companies with less than 25 people are not required under that law to have a sexual harassment policy. This is a threat to the fight against sexual harassment in smaller workplaces.

One of the main obstacles to understanding the true prevalence of sexual harassment and combating the problem is the low incidence of reports. Women often believe that no one will do anything about the problem. They are afraid of being blamed, fear of consequences, shame, denial, and stigma.

The few victims that have spoken up in most case struggle so hard to have their voices heard, the implementation of these laws is a major bottleneck. For example, the prominent case of a one Samantha Mwesigye who is a highly experienced lawyer and whose contribution to the nation has span a period of 12 years filed a case of sexual harassment at the workplace and it has been over 3 years, but the perpetrator has not been brought to book.

Despite all the campaigns that were awash the internet and media (#Justice4Samantha), justice has not been served. The victims continue suffering in agony in their plight for justice. We need to know that justice delayed is justice denied and there are so many Samantha’s out there, some without a voice. A juxtaposition of this would be whether the Ugandan Me Too campaign could yield any justice.

We have also recently seen cases in the arts and culture industry; a one artist Sheebah Karungi who spoke openly about her experience of sexual harassment at the workplace; her workplace among many other places is also the stage and the vicinity of performance. Her speaking up brought so much debate to table including dress code which to me I believe is the most unacceptable cause one can ever give for sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment at work can have very serious consequences both for the harassed individual as well as for other working women and men who experience it second-hand. The harassed are usually forced to lose their job, it makes the working condition hostile or unpleasant, demoralizing, and negatively impacts range of productivity.

Read more from the original story written by Patience Poni Ayikoru, a lawyer and human rights activist



Frank Byaruhanga is a human rights activist with years of experience in community dialogues, digital communication, advocacy and digital campaigns. He specializes in Media Relation Work, Management and Training with sufficient knowledge in Governance, Accountability, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, Youth-led research, Content developer, Creative Activism, Social Media Management and documentary photography.

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