Behind the harassment

Laws are only good when enforced. To battle the violence, men’s psychology should be altered


With the progress of women’s empowerment, and their participation in every single sector of the country, the incidences of physical and sexual assaults to women are heightening. Though the government claims success in women’s participation – a component of MDGs – it has failed to battle sexual harassment during its two consecutive regimes.

Girlhood is no longer secure in the once conservative society, though the country is ruled by a stateswoman, while the leader of the opposition is also a woman. The unabated rise in incidents of rape, stalking, and physical and mental violence against women has irritated the people, and increased feelings of insecurity in society.

Girls are living under the threat of being violated or harassed at their homes, university, or workplace. Moral degradations of the youth, aggression of alien culture, influx of adult content, lack of ethical and religious education, and fashions molded by Western culture are the evil elements responsible for transgressions in society. Recent statistics unveiled the vulnerability of girlhood in the country. Women’s rights groups have claimed that in most incidents of sexual harassment, the criminals were found somehow politically involved.

Referring to rights group Odhikar, a vernacular daily recently reported that between January and August 2014, 158 women were subjected to dowry violence, 414 females were reportedly raped, 155 girls and women were victims of sexual harassment, and 32 persons became victims of acid violence.

Bangladesh Mahila Parishad recorded at least 504 incidents of harassment, including 75 rapes and 23 gang rapes, up from 329 reported incidents of sexual assault in July. At least 2,930 incidents of aggravated stalking were reported between 2010 and 2013, driving 104 women to suicide.

Meanwhile, data showed that a total of 11,913 cases were lodged with different police stations across the country in the last seven months. The number of cases was 19,601 in 2013, 20,947 in 2012, 21,389 in 2011, and 17,752 in 2010. Most of the violence against girls remains covered with social stigma, and law enforcers move only when any particular incident is covered by the media widely.

In a January 2014 survey, jointly conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and the UN Population Fund, it was stated that about 43% of the 12,600 women surveyed in all seven divisions of the country have said public places were the most common spots where they were sexually harassed.

Stalkers in most cases were found involved with the youth wing of the ruling party that privileged abusers to secure bail from courts. After bail out, the offenders usually intimidated the victim’s family to have them withdraw the accusation. Mohila Parishad Chairman Ayesha Khanam said the government and the police were showing total indifference in bringing the offenders to justice and claimed that the perpetrators received patronage from local political leaders.

Women’s rights groups said, in the given circumstances, only community efforts could check such crimes and provide protection to victims’ families so that they did not become victims for the second time after taking action against offenders.

A class IX female student in the city’s Nandipara killed herself by taking pesticide after being repeatedly insulted and verbally abused by local thugs. Meanwhile, the Dhaka University syndicate in the last month suspended a faculty member over allegation of sexual harassment of a student. The DU authority said the accused would be terminated if found guilty. We cautiously ask the authority to go investigate the matter without politicising the incident.

There are ample provisions in both the Bangladesh Penal Code and Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Ain, 2000, to create deterrence against such deviant incidents. But laws are only good when enforced. To battle the violence, men’s psychology should be altered. ICDDR,B found that around 54% of urban men think it is a woman’s fault if she gets raped, after surveying 2,000 men in 2011.

Unless we address the representation of women in visual media, the inflow of adult content through the internet, religious and moral teachings in textbooks, the aggression of alien culture, and altering men’s and women’s psychology, sexual violence against women will not be curbed.

Without enabling social protection to women and girls, no nation can claim to be “civilised,” and no society can sustain. We again ask the stateswoman to protect women and girls from sexual harassment by establishing a justice system that demands exemplary punishment to all abusers regardless of their political identity.