THE guidelines that the High Court issued a decade ago to protect women against sexual harassment remain largely unimplemented, as speakers at a seminar in Dhaka said on Wednesday. The guidelines made it mandatory for public and private institutions to form committees to receive complaints of sexual harassment from victims. They blamed the government’s indifference for the HC guidelines to go unheard in the public and private sectors as sexual violence against women continued to rise. The Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association said that many of the government offices made party to the case that drew the guidelines remained unresponsive. The High Court delivered its judgement in the case on May 14, 2009.
As the HC judgement was binding on at least 19 government offices who were party to the case, the inaction of these offices is tantamount to contempt of court. The women and children affairs secretary said that their officers were directed to implement the guidelines immediately after their issuance. The secondary and higher education secretary also said that his officers were given similar instructions after the guidelines had come into being. But as Bangladesh Mahila Parishad director said, referring to a report of the organisation, 43 government schools are unaware of the HC guidelines, which means that they did not get any order from the ministry. Male members of the affiliated youth and student organisations of the ruling Awami League are also committing sexual offences indiscriminately. Some ranking leaders of the party, in the face of media criticism, admitted the fact grudgingly. But the government remains unresponsive to the call of the High Court to implement the guidelines to protect women against sexual harassment. It must realise that patriarchal power relation in society, which entertains the ‘domination’ of women by men, has something to do with the sexual violence repeatedly committed by men. And this necessitates all institutions to form committees to receive complaints of sexual harassment to protect young women from sexual harassment. Major political parties are sometimes reported to have expelled activists of their student and youth wings for committing the crimes, but they are often taken back into the organisations after the furore dies down. Such action is inadequate and political parties must take deterrent action against activists sexually harassing and stalking girls and women.
It is time that the government put in expeditious efforts to follow the HC guidelines and made intellectual efforts to understand why a significant section of male members has developed such a heinous tendency. It even needs to find out whether its use of masculine violence, arising out of the coercive forces of the state, to retain power is related to the sexual behaviour of the men in question.
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