“Start the protest, stop hiding”

With the overall economic development of the country, the presence of women in the workplace is increasing day by day. Sadly, concurrent to the progression of women empowerment, the incidents of torture and sexual harassment of women are also increasing. In most cases, women often avoid these issues because of shame, fear of losing their jobs and losing respect from society. In general, women do not voice out these issues until the limit of tolerance for this torture and harassment exceeds. This entire ordeal is a huge obstacle towards women being self-sufficient and economically empowered.

But what is the reason behind this?

Women, themselves. Women are their own enemy.

The social system of this country is set up in such a conservative mentality that when a woman gets harassed, society blames how she presents herself, and attacks her character. Whenever there is a complaint of sexual harassment, most of the victims get shamed for the way they dress up, and women are often mocked and jeered at because of this. Against this backdrop, many crooked individuals are falling through the cracks. Most of them are harassing their female colleagues using their position of power. Most women refuse to seek action from the appropriate authorities due to fear of shame or additional harassment. So they grit their teeth and go on with their work. And when they are unable to continue this, they quit their job.

According to an estimate by ActionAid, 78% of women in Dhaka city are subjected to harassment, which not only includes workplaces, but educational institutions, roads and transport systems. It should be of note that 34% of our country’s GDP growth is from contribution of working women. Statistics shows that in Bangladesh, about 18.4 million women are involved in the labor market, and this large number of women are not safe in their workplace. A survey carried out in garments workers shows that only 2.2% women protested against sexual harassment.

So, will this culture of harassment and injustice continue? Is there no solution to this?

On May 14, 2009, the High Court of Bangladesh created a policy focusing on sexual harassment at the workplace. Yet, this could not stop the harassment of women in the workplace. There is a women’s movement in Bangladesh, but there is no evidence that there is a change in the public’s opinion due to this movement.

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However, one question has been answered in all this. Women have to fight against sexual harassment, they have to fight for their rights. There is no time to wait for the liberal modern men to assist women to bring about these reforms.

Thus, women have to fight by themselves. Women who have initiated this fight need to know that the goal is to improve their personal self-esteem, and to make their own place in the society. And to prevent sexual harassment, abuse of power needs to be stopped. This will only happen if women themselves ascertain positions of power. However, till this reform does not occur, will women stay as it is?

Sarah Selzer, writer and feminists says, ‘Not at all!’ Her advice to women is not to be silent, and to protest and tell each other about the harassment they face. Every information should be exchanged, and coordinated. Every woman in the workplace needs to be more conscious. Her advice is to not keep any incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace a secret, and not to allow the culprit to stay unpunished. She says, to ensure a healthy and creative workplace for women, patriarchal attitude needs to be prevented, strong and united protests need to be done against it and the proper application of law needs to be implemented against sexual abuse.

Dil Afroze Mila, Branch Manager

Micro-finance, SAJIDA Foundation

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