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When sexual harassment leads to suicide

25 Jul

DHAKA, 13 December 2010 (IRIN) – Sexual harassment against girls and women in Bangladesh is turning deadly: 28 women have committed suicide this year and another seven attempted it to escape frequent sexual harassment, says a Dhaka-based human rights organization, Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK).

A father also committed suicide fearing social insult after his daughter was harassed and in other cases, stalkers killed three women, reported the NGO. 

According to the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association, almost 90 percent of girls aged 10-18 years have experienced what is known locally as “eve-teasing”,  where boys intercept girls on the street, and shout obscenities, laugh at them or grab their clothes. 

Eve-teasing has escalated ever since girls and women started entering formal education and employment in larger numbers in the 1980s, said Paul Subrata Malakar, from the NGO Plan International, in Dhaka. 

Impacts 

On 16 November, Sharmin*, a 20-year-old student in Dinanjpur, (400km northwest of Dhaka), was returning home from college when a stalker forcibly held her hand and tried to hug her. 

Since then, her parents say, she has stopped going to college. 

“As sexual violence is happening on the way to school, it will panic parents and the parents will discourage their daughters from going to school,” said Rekha Saha, director of Dhaka-based NGO, Steps Towards Development. 

In a country where 1.5 million girls (out of 10.4 million eligible) are not enrolled in school, an unknown number are avoiding school out of fear and humiliation of daily harassment. 

Since January of this year, ASK has received 61 complaints from girls who had dropped out of school because they were harassed. 

Moreover, in a country where more than 64 percent of girls marry before they are 18, some parents have pushed eve-teasing victims into early marriage to “protect” their honour and safety, said Malakar and Saha. 

Causes 

Ishrat Shamim, a gender studies expert and professor of sociology at Dhaka University, is calling for further investigation into the causes of the rise in violence against women. 

“[The] mindset of both men and women is important. Many men, also women, believe women are second-class citizens after men. [While] women’s participation in education, the labour force and other activities is increasing, men are not yet to get used to seeing women outside the home.” 

Changing this mindset has proven to be a long-standing obstacle. 

“In a male-dominant society, eve-teasing can be viewed as a rite of passage for boys on their way to becoming men,” said Malakar of Plan International. “All the steps [we take] will be futile unless the male segment of the society change its patriarchal mindset.” 

The fact that girls are hesitant to report violence has made studying and fighting the phenomenon even more difficult. 

“Many girls believe that if they complain, their parents and community leaders will blame her,” said Sayeda*, a 14-year-old student in the capital, Dhaka. 

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‘Eve teasing’ is a form of sexual harassment

25 Jul

The United Nations in Bangladesh is working to raise awareness on violence against women, as part of the UN Secretary General’s globalUNiTE campaign. This is part of a series of articles that will appear in the media until December 10, focusing on the context, the policy interventions, and the actions needed in combating violence against women in Bangladesh.   

A NUMBER of slum children were invited to a roundtable titled ‘Children in City Life’, organised by Prothom Alo in collaboration with UNICEF in May 2012. During this discussion, girls living in the slums of Dhaka complained that they were often forced into early marriage by their parents as they were constantly harassed by stalkers, making them feel insecure. They also said that they could not study at home as these boys played loud music close to their homes, blew whistlesand made all sorts of indecent gestures whenever they saw the girls inside. This sometimes forced girls to discontinue education and in the worst cases, contemplate or even commit suicide.
Once confined only to stalking school girls, this problem has now become more pervasive. Mobile phones are also currently used as a popular form of harassment. A stalker starts by sending a flattering SMS to a girl, who naturally develops feelings for the sender. He then uses this to his advantage. They spend a few intimate moments together which are captured by hidden cameras and later circulated on the internet. Girls and boys also become closer by chatting on the internet. This too is sometimes a well laid out trap for girls. 
A recent Study on Suicide Ideation and Attempt amongst Bangladeshi Adolescents states that stopping ‘eve teasing’ and sexual harassment can prevent young people from contemplating and attempting suicide.

Sexual harassment through ‘eve teasing’ on the rise
‘EVE teasing’ was not an acute problem in Bangladesh until the 1980s. As more girls and womenduring this time became educated and entered the labour force, ‘eve teasing’ as a harmful social practice became much more prevalent.
‘Eve teasing’ is rising both in number, recklessness and ferocity. Figures released by Ain-O-Salish Kendra, a human rights organisation, revealed that 62 per cent of school girls are victims of ‘eve teasing’. 
Apart from increasing school drop-outs and forcing girls into early marriage, eve teasing also contributes to perpetuating the low status of women.

Current law, need for legal reforms and community action
THE government of Bangladesh has pursued a number of legal measures, both direct and indirect, to minimise violence against women and uphold their rights. Unfortunately, ‘eve teasing’ is still not considered a form of physical harassment, and thus is not legally regarded as a violent act. Consequently, the tragedy is that very few victims of eve teasing are being taken seriously by the police or the legal authority. 
Fortunately, things are gradually changing. On November 11, 2011, mobile courts in Bangladesh were empowered to prosecute people accused of sexually harassing women or ‘eve teasing’. Anyone convicted of sexual harassment or stalking women will face a year in jail, a fine or both. The government now hopes that mobile courts will deal with cases quickly and that the punishments handed out will act as a deterrent to others. Mobile courts across the country will be trying these cases and district officials can form mobile courts whenever they think it is necessary.
Mobile courts can be seen as progress as they recognise ‘eve teasing’ as sexual harassment that should be punished. However, one needs to remain careful as in some cases sanctions can also be excessive. For example, an adolescent boy under the age of 16 years (who should benefit from special provisions under the Children Act) can also be sentenced to one year jail after summary trial for making a one-time indecent remark to a girl. 
Therefore, we recommend further amendment of the Suppression of Violence against Women and Children 2000 Act (amended in 2003) in order to define ‘eve teasing’, recognising it as sexual harassment, categorising different forms of eve teasing and defining a scale of proper penalty in relation to the form of eve teasing, the profile of eve teaser, and repeat offenders. Special attention needs to be taken when the accused persons are under the age of 18 years, as the Children Act provides for separate procedures for them to be dealt with and the proposed new Children Act also encourages, where possible, informal procedures for them.
UNICEF also recommends galvanising adolescent and youth clubs across the country as well as active participation of both boys and girls, parents, community stakeholders, local officials and opinion makers — imams, teachers, political leaders and public officials to step up community vigilance and bring about positive social norms in respect to establishing the dignity and respect of girls and women in society in particular.
Pascal Villeneuve is Representative, UNICEF Bangladesh.

Poll on How to Prevent Sexual Harassment

25 Jul

Case Study from Academia

19 Jul

The female Professor Mahjabin is also a victim of character assassination propaganda through leaflet distribution. The professor is young, outspoken and has an excellent academic background. In traditional Bangladesh society some one like her is not usually looked upon kindly. In 1998, she committed the ‘mistake’ by attending a meeting that was arranged to discuss the matter of the male faculty member who was facing an allegation of rape of a female student by him. The leaflet made comment about Professor Mahjabin’s personal life and carried on her character assassination alleging that she had an extra-martial affairs with one of the male member of the faculty. It is to be noted that in Bangladesh culture character assassination of woman to put her in her ‘proper place’ is very common. In a society where great emphasis is given on woman’s chastity and where her standing within the family and society depends on it, character assassination affects her in multifarious ways. She loses her dignity, her reputation and value as a woman not only within her immediate family like her husband and children but also within her extended family and in-laws family. She is put to shame to an extent that she gets psychologically shattered. In case of Professor Mahjabin, the perpetrators tried to do exactly the same. They did not stop at leaflet distribution. They also made phone calls to her thirteen years old son and e-mails to her husband. The harassment continued for a long time. She was harassed to a point that her professional life got affected.

Case Study from Non Government Organization (NGO)

19 Jul

Sima has been working for twenty years. She reported that male/female ratio is lopsided and the competition is uneven because of social condition and the way a girl child is treated from her birth. She has been a member of the Gender Committee for seven years and finds that crude harassment is much less than before, but it still occurs. She narrated two rape incidents that occurred at the Field Office. In one case, Selina who was base line worker in the Field Office used to get harassed by her supervisor. The supervisor, on various occasions, used to touch her and brush his body against her. One day she got held up because of rain and had to wait in supervisor’s office room. The supervisor raped her. In another case a rape incident took place in Comilla Field Office where a trainee was raped by the supervisor. Both incidents took place in mid-1990s before the adoption of the sexual harassment policy but upon complaints both supervisors lost their jobs. However, it is to be noted that even after the adoption of the policy between 1997 and 2002 as many as five rape cases have been reported to the Gender Unit of Human Rights.

Case Study from Media

19 Jul

Parveen is a thirty years old unmarried young woman who has been working as reporter for a vernacular daily. The environment of the organization, according to Parveen is prone to sexual harassment. She herself has become victim of sexual harassment in her organization and mostly it was done by her male colleagues. On many   occasions, she faced unwanted touch from her male colleague but she tolerated such male advance mainly for a number of reasons: lack of sexual harassment policy and sexual grievance procedure, existing gender ideology, patriarchal socialization and the fact that the incidents were made to look like accidental one. Sexist comments like “You are beautiful and you have enormous sex appeal” have been common. Although she found these male behaviours demeaning, her male colleagues seem to be quite oblivious about the impact of such language and physical gestures. What was particularly bothersome was when she became the victim of persistent sexual harassment by one of her colleagues. He would leer at her and touch her in subtle way. On one occasion, he told her that he found her very appealing and would like to have a special relationship with her. She got angry and rebuked him and also told him to get lost. Next day, during lunch she was looking for her purse in her handbag and while fumbling she found a strip of birth control pills. She was shocked and as she lifted her face she found her tormentor sitting right across the room who was looking at her with a sinister smile on his face. Parveen fought back her tears and simply walked out of the room. She felt absolutely helpless.

Case Study from Garments Sector:

19 Jul

Golapi is 18 years old. She is unmarried and has been working in a garment factory for three years. She became the victim of sexual harassment by the manager and one of the supervisors of the factory. The supervisor would touch her shoulder and back while passing by her station. At times, he would bend over her and put his hand on her shoulder and try to reach her bosom. Golapi had no where to go as the manager himself was also the tormentor who would make comments about her figure and appearance. He often commented in her presence that he would like to have her. Subsequently, Golapi was given night shift duty. As usual just like the previous five days she was on night shift duty when she was called by the supervisor into a room where the manager was also present. Both the supervisor and the manager tried to rape her. While the supervisor grabbed her from behind and gagged her, the manager tried to tear her clothes off. At one stage she started screaming and cried for help. When she tried to break free and screamed the manager attempted to choke her with the help of a shirt. She started bleeding in the mouth because of choking. She was taken to the hospital in almost unconscious condition. Salaries of both manager and supervisor of that particular month had been withheld by the owner as a punishment indeed.