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Over 22% female garment workers face sexual harassment at workplace

  • Published at 02:03 pm May 7th, 2019
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Officials of Manusher Jonno Foundation and Karmojibi Nari at a press briefing at the National Press Club on Tuesday, May7, 2019 Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

A total of 22 factories were surveyed for this study

A recent study jointly conducted by Manusher Jonno Foundation and Karmojibi Nari has showed that 22.4% of female garment workers are sexually harassed at and on their way to their workplaces.

The non-government organizations (NGOs) disclosed their findings at a press briefing yesterday, at the National Press Club.

The study found that 42% of these incidents included “ill-intentioned” leering at female workers, 34% cases of being groped, and 34.92% of their "private body parts being stared at."

Some 28% of all sexual harassment incidents were of female garment workers being touched inappropriately by their supervisors at work.

Around 40% were harassed and abused on public transport and on sidewalks. Furthermore, one-fourth of female garment workers reported feeling unsafe working in factories.

"41.7% female respondents and 26.74% male respondents say new workers are most likely to be sexually harassed because new workers rarely voice their concerns," the study added.

Other reports of harassment included being rebuked by supervisors, and physical assault for minor mistakes, rude behaviour by supervisors, use of vulgar and abusive language, seeking sexual favours, and threatening to fire female workers if they complain.

The study identified a culture of impunity and inaction on the part of the authorities with regard to sexual harassment, as one of the key reasons for this workplace menace.

Speaking as the chief guest at the event, Member of Parliament, Shirin Akhter, urged the authorities concerned to be more conscious in this regard.

A total of 511 respondents from various levels and disciplines participated in the study, including helpers, operators, quality inspectors, factory management, government and non government officials, and members of trade bodies Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA).

MJF Executive Director, Shaheen Anam, said the study was conducted at 22 factories in Dhaka and Chittagong, between March and May last year.

Stakeholder opinions and recommendations

The experts present at the event emphasized the importance of  building a business model that protects female workers from all forms of sexual harassment.

They blamed the situation on the absence of anti-sexual harassment committees in factories, less female representation in trade unions, and the lack of awareness about  such issues, among all stakeholders. 

Karmojibi Nari President, Dr Pratima Paul Majumder, said awareness was the most important tool in curbing sexual violence at educational institutions and workplaces.

“The rate of sexual harassment will go down when there is a good relationship between workers and factory owners,” she said.

Speaking at the briefing, Ylva Sahlstrand, second secretary of Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, said female workers needed to be more aware and alert in their workplaces, adding: “Education can create awareness.”

Sahlstrand further said that anti-sexual committees should support female workers and factory owners, management, and trade unions, should also come forward in this regard.

"Social dialogue is also needed here,” she added.

The research found sexual harassment at the workplace harmed both the female worker and the organization.

Victims suffer mentally and physically, which also affects their productivity and income.

Organizations incurr losses due to the fall in productivity and a drop in the quality of products.

Why do female workers hesitate to file complaints?

Female workers said the process of filing formal or informal complaints regarding workplace sexual harassment is "time consuming," according to the study.

They preferred to suppress their grievances and refrained from lodging complaints out of fear of reprisal and public shaming.

Moreover, during mediation or arbitration, the clothing, attitude, and behavior of female victims was "discussed in a humiliating manner," the study found.

This discouraged female garment workers from looking for solutions to harassment, and hence most incidents went unreported.