THE demand for a sexual harassment policy in educational institutions was realised in 2009. In a public interest litigation filed by the Bangladesh National Women’s Lawyer Association, the High Court issued certain directives in the form of guidelines to resolve sexual harassment cases in educational institutions and workplace. The judgement also catalysed the University Grants Commission to notify colleges and universities to form sexual harassment complaint cells. Complaint cells are reported to have been set up in 39 public and 60 private universities. But the court order is yet to be implemented in schools and colleges. The directive has largely been ignore in the private sector. The negligence in the judicious implementation of the High Court order suggests the insincerity of successive governments in preventing sexual harassment.
The political insincerity is, however, not limited to the non-implementation of court order. Questions have been raised about the patriarchal and political bias in the operation of the cells in public universities. On September 29, a student of government politics in Jahangirnagar University expressed no confidence in the convener of the sexual harassment cell there. On October 9, she again filed a petition to the vice-chancellor, demanding administrative action against the convener for compromising the investigation and for being abusive towards her. There are other women teachers and students in Jahangirnagar University who experienced similar harassment during investigations and termed the attitude of the cell member biased and hostile. In 2018, a student of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology was expelled for two years after she had filed a complaint against a teacher even though the investigation found the action of harasser morally reprehensible. In September, two women lecturers of Dhaka Commerce College faced various threats for filing a complaint against a professor of Bangla of the college. The experience and observation of lawyers working in the cells as external members further support the allegation made by recent victims of sexual harassment in Jahangirnagar University. They observe that people close to power on campus are nominated as members to the cell and their demonstrated commitment to stop sexual harassment and gender justice are not any considerations. It is, therefore, not surprising that the operation of the cell reeks of patriarchal and political bias.
Only the formation of complaint cells is not enough to stop sexual harassment. Incidents of no confidence makes it evident that the court directive needs an urgent review and should provide for legal instruments to monitor an effective operation of the cell and ensure that integrity of the investigation is not compromised and hampered by political or other ideological interferences. The government at the same time needs to heed the court directive that has asked it to complete its initiative to incorporate a section in the Repression on Women and Children (Prevention) 2000 defining sexual harassment.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Editorial