Soon after receiving multiple promotions, Anila, a talented and hard-working employee at a reputed multi-national company, started to notice her supervisor behaving strangely towards her at work.
He began to approach her every morning when she arrived at work and, on several occasions, he wanted to meet her outside. But she repeatedly rebuffed his advances.
Her department was totally male-dominated, but she managed to keep a good working relationship with her co-workers so far.
Then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, her boss yelled out and called her a “slut.”
All of this happened when no one else was around.
As Anila did not respond to her boss’s proposal, he started to undermine her at work and in public discussions. It became his habit to negate Anila’s opinion in each and every matter, even if she was right, and he wrongfully accused her of various forms of misconduct.
She wanted to lodge a complaint, but felt ashamed and thought her complaint might be swept under the rug.
There were days she came home fed-up and depressed. She was tired of battling on, day after day, and decided to make a harassment case to the authorities.
Usually, the victim would have to go to his or her employer to file a complaint against a supervisor or co-worker, but even the employers themselves may have a misogynistic mindset. In that case, they would not be an impartial arbiter of the situation.
Sexual harassment is not something that’s widely discussed in our culture and, as a result, continues to be a problem in our society.
Young women in Bangladesh have to experience a shocking amount of sexual violence, both verbal and physical, at the workplace.
People of our society largely consider it a private issue, not something to be discussed in public, and tend to blame the women if they come forward with a complaint.
Protection from sexual harassment and an environment that allows an employee to work with dignity are universally recognised as basic human rights
In the landmark case of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA) vs Government of Bangladesh and Others 22, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh defined sexual harassment and laid down guidelines to protect women and girls from sexual harassment at the workplace and educational institutions in both the public and private sectors.
These guidelines have to be followed by all organisations until adequate legislation is enacted.
The court issued a series of 11 rules to serve as guidelines, which requires forming a sexual harassment redressal committee to facilitate disciplinary action against every complaint of harassment.
Such action may lead to the harasser’s dismissal along with the possibility of commencing a criminal case.
Organisations are also directed to take measures to create awareness against sexual harassment.
In Bangladesh, sexual harassment is a punishable offence under different laws. Section 10 (2) of the Nari-o-Shishu Nirjaton Domon Ain (2000) which states that, any man who, in order to satisfy his lust in an improper manner, outrages the modesty of a woman, or makes obscene gestures, will have engaged in sexual harassment and, for this, the above-mentioned male will be sentenced to rigorous imprisonment of not more than seven years and not less than two years, and beyond this will be subjected to monetary fines as well.
Sexual harassment is also punishable under Bangladesh Penal Code 1860. Section 509 of the Bangladesh Penal Code provides that “whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both.”
A social imperative
In our society, a man is considered to be the primary bread-winner. As long as women are not financially independent, no amount of effort will result in their empowerment. No matter who they are, all women need to be independent economically to achieve social and financial freedom.
Women constitute half of the total population of our country. In today’s world, they can no longer be considered the weaker gender.
Bangladeshi women’s participation in the workforce has proven to be critical for our economic growth over the past couple of decades. The number of women joining the mainstream workforce has increased significantly.
Sadly, many women’s dreams have been destroyed by molesters in the workplace -- their co-workers; but proper implementation of the law in every organisation can combat this menace.
Protection from sexual harassment and an environment that allows an employee to work with dignity are universally recognised as basic human rights.
Our society constantly scrutinises the personal lives and moral character of women.
It’s time to wake up our conscience to make every workplace safe enough for everyone to grow, learn, and evolve with a lot more opportunities of aspiration and optimism.
Miti Sanjana is a Barrister-at-law from Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn and an Advocate of Supreme Court of Bangladesh.