Sex for grades

At Uganda's Makerere University, administrators and women's rights advocates are finally standing up to sexual harassment.

Published May 3, 2006 9:03PM (EDT)

For students on college campuses across the world, May is the month of preparing for final exams and finishing papers. Unfortunately, for female students at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, it often means having to make the nonchoice between submitting to a professor's sexual advances or settling for a mediocre grade.

Women's eNews reports that "the practice of male lecturers at Makerere demanding sex from female students in exchange for diplomas and 'carpet' grades -- indicating where the transaction takes place -- is well known." Women lecturers, secretaries and maids also face this kind of harassment, risking "employment, pay and decent treatment" if they refuse to comply. This disgusting practice is standard fare at a university that was once considered the Harvard of the continent.

It's great news then to learn about a group of administrators and women's rights advocates at Makerere who have drafted a sexual harassment policy to address the problem. If it's approved, which could happen as early as this month, "it will be among the first of its kind in an African institution of higher learning." While sexual harassment policies are commonplace at institutions in the U.S., Maria Gorette Karuhanga, a human rights lawyer who helped draft the policy, told eNews, "this is an issue that we have just started talking about in Uganda. In the absence of any document -- any legal policy -- people have no basis to challenge anything."

At a school of mostly male administrators, the response to the proposed policy has been "lukewarm," but the political climate could be just right for the issue to gain steam. As eNews reports, "last month, Parliament passed new labor laws for the first time since the 1970s, after pressure from the United States that threatened to exclude the country from the African Growth and Opportunities Act  Among other things, the new legislation outlaws sexual harassment in the work place."

As we know in the U.S. a policy doesn't always mean enforcement, but human rights lawyer Karuhanga believes that "just getting it on the books will send an important message."

By Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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