An overwhelming majority of women who step outside their homes in pursuit of education and livelihood, every now and then encounter some level of sexual harassment. In the wake of Risha's unfortunate death, this article aims to define Eve teasing, a euphemism for sexual harassment, so that the offence and its consequence consistently be explained to general people.
Since 2010, June 13 has been designated "Eve Teasing Protection Day" by the education ministry in Bangladesh. The announcement itself reflects increasing concern over the worrying number of girls and women who have committed suicide in the country in past few years to escape "Eve teasing". Sexual harassment is a gender discrimination and human rights violation of women. In Bangladesh women are in a peripheral position in the society as it is governed by patriarchal attitude.
The journey to ensure women empowerment in Bangladesh began since independence in 1971 by ensuring equal rights in the Constitution. The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees equal rights for both men and women in all spheres of state and public life.
Bangladesh has enacted a number of laws that aims for removing the immoral crime of Eve teasing from our society. Among them, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance of 1976 first addressed Eve teasing directly. According to Section 76 of the Ordinance, Eve teasing may be defined as-
i. willful and indecent exposure of a person in a street or public place within the sight of a woman,
ii. willful pressure or obstruction on any woman in a street or public place,
iii. insult or annoyance towards a woman by using indecent language or making indecent sounds, gestures, or remarks in any street or public place.
The law provides that a person guilty of committing the above mentioned acts shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to two thousand taka, or with both.
Later, in 2000 the government enacted tougher law to protect vulnerable women and children of the country from various typical offences. Under section 10 of the Prevention of Women and Children Oppression Act, 2000 a person is punishable with rigorous imprisonment of 3-10 years and fine of an indefinite amount for committing sexual torture.
After the amendment of The Prevention of Suppression against Women and Children Act, 2000 in 2003, there remained no legal provisions in the country addressing directly the problem of sexual harassment. But, newspapers bring out pathetic reports on sexual harassment every now and then. In this crucial situation, Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA) filed a Writ Petition to the High Court Division. The Court, after examining the pros and cons of the problem issued their judgement giving the government an eleven-point directive which will fill up the legislative vacuum in the nature of law. In these directives the Court suggested a detailed definition of sexual harassment that included all other existing definitions of non-contact sexually connoting offences. It also incorporated the modern means of erotic insults against women that are prevalent in our present age of information technology. However, though the ingredients of the offence of eve teasing are easily distinguishable from the order, the court did not use the term eve teasing. Actually, eve teasing, though commonly used and understood in Bangladesh, its legal definition is yet to be established.
The government has already started the process of fulfilling the directives of the judgement. Complaint Committees have been formed in many institutions according to the decretive no-9 of the judgement. In addition, the Executive Magistrates were empowered to take legal action in the form of imposing punishment of imprisonment of one year or fine Tk5000 or both under the Mobile Court Act, 2009 on the spot against those who are convicted of stalking and harassing a woman. However, emergence and wide use of digital tools open new dimension of sexual harassment in cyber world.
Cyber sexual harassment can range from creation of fake account on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media, uploading indecent content, vulgar comments, uploading a girl's image or video on a public forum without her consent, from exhibition of unwanted sexual attention to distribution of pornographic materials online. Regrettably there is no comprehensive law adequately dealing with sexual harassment in social media and other digital platforms albeit cases can be filed under the existing Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, 2000, the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Act, 2006 and the Pornography Control Act, 2012. Perpetrators can be prosecuted under section 8 of the Pornography Act and Section 57 of the ICT Act while S. 57 states that anyone can be penalised for “any false and obscene posts online” for a maximum of 10 years and maximum fine of 1 crore. However, it does not define what constitutes “obscene”. Nevertheless, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has complaint mechanism on it’s web site i.e. btrc.gov.bd. Additionally, anyone can seek help by dialing 2872 (BTRC) during office time or can email to [email protected]
or through post to IEB Bhaban, Ramna, Dhaka-1000.
The Government has also adopted National Women Development Policy 2008. In the said policy, the Government reiterated its position to comply with different international covenants and instruments to protect the rights of women.
Being unaware about their rights and legal provisions against violence, Bangladeshi women are facing different kinds of violence in public and private sphere of their life. In response, National Helpline Centre for Violence against Women and Children, a helpline centre for the Bangladeshi women and children victim was founded in 19th June, 2012 to provide the immediate service to victims and links up to relevant agencies.
The helpline number is 10921. It is a toll free number and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is accessible from all parts of Bangladesh and all beneficiaries can make call from both fixed phone and mobile phone. It’s a confidential service that offers legal advice, police assistance, telephone counselling, referrals to other organizations service, information regarding violence issues. Any women and children who are the victim of violence, their guardians, family members, neighbors, friends, colleague of the victim or any known person of the victim can call to National Helpline Centre for Violence against Women and Children.
We may conclude here that given the traditional backdrop in Bangladesh where chastity in a women is of utmost importance, victims of Eve teasing suffer in silence rather than protest against such practice, which only invites unwarranted attention that would be socially demeaning. This lead us to assume that a proper deconstruction of Eve teasing is likely to help restructuring our social views regarding the offence. Therefore, Eve teasing requires an overwhelming antidote.
Barrister Farzana Hussain is Barrister at Law (Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn), a Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Northern University Bangladesh (NUB); Lawyer at Dhaka Judges’ Court; Legal Researcher and Human Rights Activist.