By Frank Kamuntu
Kampala: Several female vendors in various parts of Kampala and other urban centres around the country complain of sexual harassment by men.
In order to fight the vice, vendors in Nakawa Market have started up a pressure group to fight against this rampant sexual harrassment.
“Some men are in the habit of touching women on private parts,” said Nora Baguma, a vendor at Nakawa market.
“We call them bayaye,” she added, while sitting besides her banana stall.
Baguma is the women’s representative of Nakawa market, one of Kampala’s largest, where about 7,000 workers sell their merchandise.
The work of a local organisation, the Institute for Social Transformation has increased awareness about sexual harassment among women at Nakawa.
A protocol for dealing with cases has now been established; before, women in the market could only hold perpetrators to account, without any redress.
As she puts handfuls of mukene (dried silver fish) in bags for customers, market vendor Catherine Nanzige explains how punishments vary, depending on the severity of the crime.
“You pay a fee of Shs50 to 100,000 (about £10–20) and if you pay that fee and do the same thing again, you are given a month suspension from the market. If you continue, the authorities expel you.”
A Nakawa market committee member, Nanzige, has been working there since she was a child, helping at her mother’s stall.
“They see me and fear me, because they know if I see them touching someone I will report them. However, some women and girls are still reluctant to speak out– particularly younger women and girls.
“Waitresses serving lunch here are young, 12 or 13 years old. When they take food to customers, those men harass them,” said Susan Tafumba, another vendor and secretary of Nakawa’s groundnuts
“It has redefined the world of work to go beyond the workplace itself, and provides for all kinds of employees,” explained Ophelia Kemigisha, a human rights lawyer.
The campaign covers the formal and informal economy as well as public and private spaces, for example protecting the rights of women when commuting to and from work.
“But whether the campaign will be fruitful in Uganda or not depends on government commtiment to enfrorce it,” argued Kemigisha.
“Uganda’s current sexual harassment legislation was clearly made without women in the formal sector in mind,” she added.
“But when it comes to companies, regulations only require employers with more than 25 staff to have a sexual harassment policy, failing to cover women working in markets who also “often don’t have an ‘employer’ who would be held accountable” but get sexually harrassed.” She says.
Leah Eryenyu, a researcher at pan-African feminist organisation Akina Mama Wa Afrika, is optimistic that the campaign will lead to improvements in respect of women’s right, despite Uganda leading a successful motion to remove a recommendation that LGBT people be included in a list of volunarable groups to be protected.