Since the time immemorial women in most societies have played their role at homes while men have always been regarded as those who can go outside for their work. For example, in the past in our culture men worked in the fields to grow crops while women washed cloths, husked paddy and cooked food for their husbands at home. Women usually had no participation in the social activity or political affairs. Men went to the markets, attended the social and political meetings and dealt with all the external affairs. But, time has changed and women’s role in the society has changed phenomenally as soon as they have been given education and allowed some extent of freedom. Nowadays, there is scarcely any sector in which women are not working along with men, side by side, and showing their ability and excellence. They are going to the bazaar to shop, to the office to work and to the universities to educate themselves. Such a reversal of attitude and situation has not only made a good number of our women financially independent and helped them contribute to their household income but also opened a door of possibility for them.
However, such advantage has kindled some social menaces at the same time and created vulnerable situations everywhere. As today’s women have to go outside to carry out different activities, they often fall victim to sexual harassments and rape, which has become a serious issue in the present time. A few months ago, a female student was allegedly molested by a group of men when she was trying to get on a bus near Bangla Motor area. She was caught in the middle of a procession which was moving towards Shahbagh. She narrated her unpleasant experience on her Facebook account in this way, “Around 15 to 20 people surrounded me and then the most obvious thing happened. My two hands could not prevent so many hands grabbing my body. Finally, a police officer rescued me from the gang of molesters, stopped a bus and put me in it”. Thus giving an account of her ordeal, she said that she was mentally devastated and wanted to leave the country. This incident was reported in a number of national dailies. Well, it is not a rare incident at all. However, not all women in the society have such courage to express their unpleasant experience of sexual harassments and so they prefer to suffer silently.
A few surveys conducted by different institutions reflect that sexual harassment is no longer a negligible issue in the country. It is really a disturbing matter that women often have to suffer some kind of sexual, verbal or physical harassment. A study conducted by Brac says that 94 percent women travelling in public transports have fallen prey to some forms of harassment, at least once in their life. Then, study conducted by a famous English national daily found that 70 percent of participants who are students of different private and public universities have experience of some kind of sexual harassment at their campus. Meanwhile, as more women are now joining the workforce in Bangladesh, sexual harassment at workplace has emerged as a growing problem for women in the country. A study namely ‘State of Rights Implementation of Women Readymade Garment Workers’ conducted by Karmojibi Nari and Care Bangladesh indicate that nearly 12.7% of female workers face sexual harassment at their workplaces. Furthermore, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Bangladesh survey shows that more than 10% of female police personnel face some form of sexual harassment at the workplace. Among mid-level female officers, 2.7% of sub-inspectors and 3.3% of assistant sub-inspectors reported their experience of sexual harassment while the number is greater than 10% among constables.
However, the aforementioned surveys and studies only reflect a rough account of how many women are being victimized. As any topic related to sex is regarded as taboo in our country, the victims largely tend to avoid reporting such harassment or sharing their bitter experience. Often the victims refrain from making any official complaints as they fear humiliation, termination of their jobs or for some other reasons. And thus the grave offence continues to exist and cause immense sufferings to the women outside their homes day in and day out.In 2009, in response to a writ petition submitted by Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association, the High Court of Bangladesh laid down a number of guidelines for the concerned authorities to prevent sexual harassment of women. The High Court of Bangladesh reviewed a few instances of sexual harassments that took place at different universities. The court prohibited several specific behaviours like demands for sexual favours, showing pornography, taking still or video photographs for the purpose of blackmail and character assassination etc. But it is disappointing that although nearly a decade has passed, the guideline issued by the court for stopping sexual harassment at educational institutions and workplaces have been proved to be largely ineffectual, perhaps owing to the lack of proper implementation of the directives.
Well, the impact of sexual harassment can be manifolds. According to a document, anger, annoyance, and embarrassment etc. are the most common emotional responses towards sexual harassment. Furthermore, close to one in three women who has experienced sexual harassment have said that they felt fearful as a result of the most serious incident, while one in five victims say that the most serious incident made themselves feel ashamed of what had taken place. In other situations, harassment may lead to temporary or prolonged stress or depression. Moreover, psychologists and social workers report that severe or chronic sexual harassment can have the same psychological effects as rape or sexual assault. Victims who do not submit to harassment may also experience various forms of retaliation, including isolation and bullying. Thus, sexual harassment deprives many women of active social and economic participation which affect their overall social and economic life.
If enforced properly, law can help to curb such evil practices to a great extent, albeit it would not be a panacea. A national policy would be necessary to deal with discriminations at workplace, ensure workers' dignity and boost their self-esteem. But more than anything else, women should speak up against what unpleasant thing they have to endure every day. They should play an active role in eliminating this problem and try to make their voice heard. Employers and the authorities of the schools, colleges and universities should prohibit sexual harassment, ensure that their environments are not hostile toward females, and establish complaint cell to respond to any complaint from a victim. Most importantly moral education should be specially imparted to the students and youths so that a change comes in the mindset of the new generation.