Women”... yes, that is the first word that comes to our mind when we hear sexual harassment. And it’s always the women who are being accused. Her way of talking, her ways of dressing or even her natural beauty are considered the reasons behind the attack on her. But nobody seems to blame the predators -the men. Naomi Wolf, in her The Beauty Myth, writes “Beauty provokes harassment, the law says, but it looks through men's eyes when deciding what provokes it.”
Sexual harassment whether in workplaces, or institution or other places is a common phenomenon in Bangladesh. And worst of all, women in most cases, refrain from complaining against it or taking any measures to combat the problem. But continuous harassment is indeed intimidating and can degrade one’s self esteem and morals which may lead to depression and in worst cases suicide. So why are steps not being taken to combat such a crisis in our society?Defining sexual harassment
Since, in Bangladesh there is no law with regards to sexual harassment in workplace, in 2009 a directive and guideline was provided in Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA) verses the Government of Bangladesh wherein it was stated that sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual behaviour whether verbally or be it by conduct, asking for sexual favours, making indecent gestures, joking through abusive language having sexual implications, making love proposals and if not agreed then blackmailing, sending indecent texts, emails and so on which can be very intimidating. Thus, covering a wide area of what constitutes as sexual harassment.
The constitution of Bangladesh enshrines and has ensured certain rights about women in different spheres of life. Article 10 speaks about ensuring women participation in all spheres of life, Article 26 states that all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law, Article 29 states about equal opportunity in respect of employment, and article 31 and article 32 speaks about the protection of law that no person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty save in accordance with law.
Thus, the constitution has left no loophole in ensuring the rights of women who needs to be protected. So, there should be proper implementation mechanism which can ensure constitutional rights are being duly implemented.
Current lawsWell, in the current context of the law of land, actions can be taken under penal code section 509 when anyone is intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture which intrudes the privacy of woman shall be punished for a term which may extend to one year. The Bangladesh labour Act 2006 has provision stating that a worker can me dismissed for misconduct which can be brought under sexual harassment.
Measures and public awareness is urgently needed to combat the current scenario where women feel vulnerable, especially when it comes to sexual harassments at workplaces and educational institutions. There can be regular orientations, seminars and conferences so that people are constantly reminded about their moral and ethical values. Furthermore, instructions should be given on how to communicate properly with women without inciting any unwelcome and unwanted gestures and activities.
I personally think any act of good teaching should start from home. Therefore, we should teach our children about which behaviour or actions can make other person feel prey to unwanted activities. And then in schools also, teachers can also play a strong role by making their students aware of such social norms.
A strong disciplinary team needs to be present in any organisation to monitor and ensure that sexual harassment is not taking place or is being dealt very seriously. Hence, there needs to be complaint procedure, a complete investigation procedure and a body to award exemplary punishments to the guilty.
The writer is Partner in FM Associates and an advocate at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]