By Jannatul Shareat Disha

Every day, women are forced to deal with the unwanted sexual harassment in Bangladesh which clearly violates their human rights and implicates gender discrimination. According to Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), about 109 sexual harassment incidents were reported in the media from January to September this year.

These sorts of incidents often have devastating physical and psychological injuries among the victims that many of them commit suicide. According to the ASK, from January to September, six girls have reportedly committed suicide. But most of the times, such incidents leave a severe impact on women’s physical and emotional health which frequently includes anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance etc. What is most alarming is that this just doesn’t end here. Human rights watchdogs reported a number of girls who have been murdered by their stalkers.

Men and women may have different perceptions as to what constitutes sexual harassment. Predatory behavior from the stalker tends to continue unless the victim clearly reacts to the acts that his acts are unacceptable. Unwanted sexual attention includes suggestive comments about a woman’s body as well as unsolicited and unreciprocated sexual advances.

Whenever a woman experiences such harassments, they perceive it annoying, offensive, upsetting, embarrassing, stressful and frightening as well which results in emotional and physical stress and stress-related mental and physical illness.

The impact of sexual harassment sometimes goes far beyond the incident. When describing individual’s experience of harassment, one girl mentioned that “I do things like put my hair up in a certain way that means it’s hard to be grabbed at. I put my headphone with music on so that I don’t have to hear any catcalls. I walk at a certain distance from groups of men in front of me. And when I see some boys are walking behind me, I immediately take a different route. And these days all these things are just normal to me now”.

It is a statement of a girl who had become a victim of harassment. But this is happening every day, and unfortunately, it has become a normal fact for a very large number of women. The fact that this long-term impact now affecting a victim’s own behavior.

Furthermore, our society most often focuses on the actions of victims rather than perpetrators. They repeatedly keep telling women that these things are bound to happen. Rather they should take precautions than to demand that men should stop harassing and assaulting in the first place.

Harassment at the workplace is one of the most complex and menacing issues nowadays. Women workers in Asia are being subjected to sexual harassment at their workplace. The garment sector is the largest employer of women in Bangladesh which has been providing employment nearly 4.2 million Bangladeshi women who basically from low-income family. They are being harassed by their boss or their colleagues. They are vulnerable to physical, verbal and sexual abuse inside the workplace as well. Every day these sort of incidents we get to read in different newspapers. Yet, a woman who is being harassed often faces the dilemma of reporting and risk losing her job or to be accused of condoning the acts.

Living in the 21st century, we have seen many reports regarding sexual harassment. In most of the cases, we have witnessed that incidents occur between a supervisor and his subordinate. This can easily create some sort of hostile environment. Being afraid of damaging their careers or even losing their jobs altogether, they do not dare to raise their voice or stand against such violence at the workplace. Many of them don’t have the financial option of walking away as they don’t have any other livelihood. The employees who perpetrate sexual harassment against others also put pressure on others indirectly to either leave their job, to report their acts or to keep their mouth shut and tolerate these acts.

However, an employer has the responsibility of preventing workplace sexual harassment and taking action before it happens. Employers accomplish this by establishing sexual harassment and reporting policies. If an employer fulfills this obligation, he may not be liable if harassment occurs. In a very recent judgment in British American Tobacco Bangladesh Company Ltd vs. Begum Shamsun Nahar, 66 DLR (AD), it was held that an institute or an establishment can be held liable and damages may also be claimed if such establishment or institute fails to ensure the prevention of sexual harassment and bullying a women, where she can work with honor and dignity and without being harassed or disturbed by her male boss or male colleagues.

This judgment clearly imposes legal obligations on the owner of the establishments or institutions to safeguard women’s dignity. Moreover, in 2009 the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh has issued a set of guidelines defining sexual delinquency to prevent any kind of physical, mental or sexual harassment of women, girls and children at their workplaces, educational institutions and other public places. These directives will be treated as a law until the law to prevent such incidents is so made as well as asked the law secretary, women and children affairs secretary or the concerned authorities to act in accordance with the guidelines.

Therefore, the government and lawmakers should take initiatives or future policies directing not only at the root causes of violence against women, but also towards addressing the specific problems that a woman face in their daily life. Again, sexual harassment preventive laws need to be made more specific by correcting the dated language as well as laws should protect against all forms of harassment. For instance, “The Nari O Shishu Nirjaton Domon Ain” of 2000 contains certain sections on sexual harassment but it is silent on the issue at workplace. Furthermore, with the passage of technological development, it has opened up a new dimension of sexual harassment in the cyber world. Women are frequently harassed over the internet or through mobile phones but regrettably, there is no comprehensive law which can adequately deal with such scenario.

However, the government can’t solve this problem without co-operation of the common people. As a responsible citizen of Bangladesh, we need to be aware as well as create awareness among others. The most important measure is that women should be conscious of their own rights and responsibilities. They should be confident enough to raise their voice when it is necessary. Many times it is observed that many women themselves fail to recognize sexual harassment and they treat it as trivial and routine. Thus ignoring such offensive behavior or denying its existence has become the most common and easiest way for a woman to deal with sexual harassment. Women need to organize themselves and become aware of their rights in a proper way. Only then they can be able to protect themselves.