University Grants Commission (UGC) said private universities have been more conscious in tackling sexual harassment than their public counterparts
Despite the issuing of a guideline on sexual harassment by the High Court in 2009, universities in Bangladesh appear reluctant to take up prevention seriously, rights experts have said.
According to a study conducted by ActionAid Bangladesh last year, a lack of awareness about the guidelines among students is a major barrier to the effective implementation of the guidelines.
Meanwhile, the University Grants Commission (UGC) said private universities have been more conscious in tackling sexual harassment than their public counterparts.
When asked by this reporter, most teachers and students at Dhaka University (DU), Jagannath University, and Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology (Buet) did not seem to be fully aware of university sexual harassment prevention committees or their functions.
Furthermore, many female students said their male friends were unaware of what constituted unwanted and unwarranted physical contact.
The female students added that they themselves often did not know how to deal with initial instances of unwanted contact, and complaints were only filed after great discomfort had already been caused.
UN Women Coordinator Mahtabul Hakim said the university authorities need to realize that they have a lot to do to tackle sexual harassment, and students should be taught about the issue from an early age
He added that UN Women will be working with the UGC to ensure a proper and educational environment.
“The UGC asked for reports on sexual harassment from the universities, but received a poor response. Only 20-25 universities out of 144 submitted the reports,” Mahtabul said.
UGC Deputy Director Mauli Azad, who is also a member of the Sexual Harassment Prevention Committee set up by the UGC to monitor the university committees, said that Jahangirnagar University, Rajshahi University, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, East West University, Northern University, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, and Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University are doing better than other universities in the tackling of sexual harassment.
Mauli added that there were very few complaints last year, and no cases were filed against anyone.
She further said sexual harassment prevention committees have already been formed at 40 public universities and 52 private ones, with most newly approved universities yet to form them.
Law more effective than guideline
UGC Deputy Director Mauli lamented that investigations into allegations of sexual harassment against influential teachers tend to go astray, with the university syndicate often reluctant to take the complaints into cognizance.
“Instead of a guideline on sexual harassment, a law would have been more appropriate,” she said.
Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association Director Advocate Towhida Khondker said they submitted a draft of a law on the prevention of sexual harassment to the Labour and Law ministries last September, but the current status of the draft is unknown.