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Report: Sexual harassment is commonplace in the public sector

  • Published at 10:28 pm July 16th, 2017
  • Last updated at 10:36 pm September 28th, 2017
Report: Sexual harassment is commonplace in the public sector
No matter whether it is a police station, a hospital, or a public transport, sexual harassment and violence is an everyday curse for women and girls when it comes to public service in Bangladesh. A new report by ActionAid Bangladesh says the atmospheres in public service-oriented places are not very women-friendly. Different forms of harassment including rude behaviour, inappropriate remarks, touching, and catcalling are quite commonplace. The perception survey was carried out in the beginning of 2016 among 400 samples – both men and women – in five slums in four urban centres – Khulna, Rajshahi, Chittagong and Narayanganj – to find out whether public services are gender responsive in terms of policy and practice. The five services taken are – police, city corporation, public transportation, markets and hospitals. It does not come as a surprise that none of the services have any specific provisions to address violence against women. And in most cases, the harassment goes unreported and unaddressed and unreported. The survey however does not distinguish between torture and abuse and harassment and interchanges torture and harassment. Women are sexually harassed in market places, 80% of the people interviewed acknowledged. Inappropriate touch in market places are a common form of harassment in marketplaces as 50% women and 35% men responded. Other form of harassment in marketplaces includes bad comments, insults, forcefully sexual harassment, tug at women's clothes, physical torture, kidnap, even rape, they survey finds. City corporation by laws provide no specific guidance on the role of female councilors while it lacks basic facilities such as separate toilets for women, breastfeeding corners and even separate sitting area for women making it difficult for women to go with young children for vaccination. The situation is similar for markets and hospitals.

How friendly are the police?

The ActionAid study says that women are “mentally and physically tortured” in police stations, such as being subjected to inappropriate remarks and touched as the most common forms. “Among the respondents, 5% said police officers keep them waiting for a long time because they are women and do not know the 'technique' to offer bribes to get the job done,” the report said. The definition of harassment also differed, as 35% female respondents and 27.5% male respondents considered teasing, 30% women and 27.5% male consider physical torture, and 15% women and 20% men think inappropriately touching is a form of while sitting as harassment faced in police stations, the perception survey says.

Public transports are not safe

Most of the respondents interviewed acknowledged that buses and bus stands are not safe for women. In bus stations, women are harassed by service providers and general public with eve teasing, rude behavior, in appropriate touch as common form of sexual harassment. “City buses are considered so unsafe that even slum women won't use them unless absolutely necessary (in cases where shared CNG or others are unavailable),” it says. At least 45% male and 22.5% woman says bad comments as harassment, while 15% men and 20% women says for “rub, push, touch and drag against body” in public transports. Harassment through use of mobile phones are also reported.

Hospital staff and doctors are no better

The study reports that 45% male and 42.5% female experience rude behaviour from hospital staff including doctors as a common form of harassment at hospitals. 15% women reported facing physical and mental torture while 10% reported they were forced against their will at the hospital. The harassment takes place in six parts of the hospital – while purchasing tickets, waiting for doctors, visiting doctors, in the x ray/examination room, in bathrooms, and by ill-mannered men from the outside. The statistics is based on both men and women based on their thoughts about how women are treated at the hospital.
It also offered four recommendations to improve the scenario: - Strengthening domestic resource mobilisation efforts through innovative and untapped mechanisms - Gender budgeting through grassroots women's representation and participation - Legally binding mechanisms for service delivery to increase accountability in public services. - Devolution of power to strengthen upazila and municipalities so that decision-making at grassroots level is more responsive to local needs.

What experts have to say

The Dhaka Tribune spoke to a number of activists whose experience in the matter could not be neglected. [caption id="attachment_76118" align="alignright" width="139"]File photo of Fahima Nasrin Munni File photo of Fahima Nasrin Munni[/caption] Advocate Fahima Nasrin Munni, executive member of Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers Association, said: “At least 10 years ago, women were not raped on public transports, but now the violence has become rampant in our society. In this case, the lack of good governance is somewhat responsible because there is a lack of accountability.” “Our prime minister and many other leaders of various sectors are women, but this picture does not represent our rural women as they remain ignored by the public service sector,” she added. “In urban areas, women are being subjected to sexual harassment on public transportation, especially on buses. Respondents have mentioned various types of objectionable behaviour, including touching their feet, pushing them off, and catcalling from behind,” ActionAid Bangladesh Manager Nuzhat Jabin told the Dhaka Tribune. [caption id="attachment_76121" align="alignleft" width="139"]File photo of Nuzhat Jabin File photo of Nuzhat Jabin[/caption] She said: “In hospitals, women faced harassment from doctors, staffs, even other male patients. But there is no system to prove these allegations. As a result, nobody complains about this.” [caption id="attachment_76127" align="alignright" width="139"]File photo of Pratima Paul Majumder File photo of Pratima Paul Majumder[/caption] Pratima Paul Majumder, former senior research fellow at Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said: “Effective management of government institutions is necessary so that these institutions can effectively provide gender sensitive services. Participatory measures can ensure the accountability of various service providers. Therefore, people's participation in ensuring service must be inclusive.” She further said: “The quality of providing services will improve and the problems will be sorted out more easily if the private sector works jointly with the government.” [caption id="attachment_76131" align="alignleft" width="139"]File photo of Ayesha Khanam File photo of Ayesha Khanam[/caption] Bangladesh Mahila Parishad President Ayesha Khanam said: “Everybody knows about harassment in public places. But a percentage cannot tell you about the exact number of incidents. The statistics and the scale is too difficult to ascertain. It is a cancer for society and we need to create public awareness and act accordingly to root it out.” [caption id="attachment_76135" align="alignright" width="132"]File photo of Shahin Ahmed Chowdhury File photo of Shahin Ahmed Chowdhury[/caption] She added: “Day by day, the numbers are rising because neither are their witnesses to come forward nor are the victims compelled to speak up. The government needs to act fast and strong to encourage these things change.” Shahin Ahmed Chowdhury, former director general of the Department of Women Affairs, said: “Harassment will always hound women from lower income groups. But it is not limited to the public services, the same thing holds true for the private sector as well. Women, the administration and the government must speak up against these things firmly.”

Here is the summary of the report-

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