A textbook for eighth graders has been criticised for shifting the blame of sexual harassment onto the victims and for suggesting that the choice of dress worn by girls is one of the major reasons for the crime.
The Home Science book also suggests that a teenage girl should not be left alone at home or go out alone with acquaintances or strangers, and that they should avoid ‘bad touches’ and protesting against catcalling or eve teasing.
The recommendations have raised eyebrows.
“The message of the textbook is completely wrong,” said Professor Shaheen Islam of Dhaka University’s Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology.
“I cannot believe how the National Curriculum and Textbook Board [NCTB] allowed such a gender discriminating book. I do not know who wrote the text but this write-up should be removed or corrected immediately.”
One of the key suggestions of the book is that girls should avoid wearing dresses that attract attention. By recommending they wear “decent dresses”, the book tries to preach the idea that dresses are responsible for sexual abuse.
“The advice to avoid wearing attractive dresses is illogical because one has the right to wear any dress one is comfortable with,” said Sara Hossain, executive director of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust. “The textbook’s content about sexual abuse is discriminatory.”
Rumina Hoque, a student of Gazipur Government Girls High School, said her parents buy her dresses that she feels comfortable in.
“Sometimes my family members and friends tell me that the dress is nice. Such appreciation may have come from their good feelings but now after reading the textbook, I feel that attractive dresses could also be the cause of sexual harassment,” she said.
On the recommendation that a teenage girl should not be left alone at home or go out alone with acquaintances or strangers, eighth grader Moushumi said her parents cannot afford to watch her all of the time.
“Every day, I come to school and go back in the school van. The textbook said never to go outside alone with anyone, even if I know the person. So what am I supposed to do when I am alone inside the van?” she asked.
Her classmate Farabi Khan has to spend most of her time alone at home as her parents are service holders. “The message in the textbook is frightening,” she said.
NCTB Chairman Narayan Chandra Saha defended the textbook, saying “social context” was considered while enlisting the precautions against sexual abuse in the text.
“If there is any observation by the stakeholders, they can submit their recommendations,” he said.
Mizanur Rahman, a parent, said boys as well as girls should be educated about the social context.
“The Home Science textbook aims at educating students about some important household things that are also necessary for the boys. We should educate our boys about the same things if we want a positive change in our society,” he said.
Another guardian, Mahmuda Tabassom, said: “Do not mount pressure on girls only. Boys should also be made aware of sexual abuse. If girls are the only ones who are taught to protect themselves from sexual abuse, it is only going to increase their mental stress.”
However, schoolboy Avijit Kar said boys could not always discuss sexual issues with parents and that the textbooks do not provide any guidelines about sexual awareness.
“I think the textbook should include lessons on how a boy should respect girls and how he should behave with his female classmates or friends,” he said.