A safe workplace for women is a fundamental right
A constant and continuous voice has been raised to battle the violence and sexual harassment that takes place against women every day around the globe, whether it be in a workplace, or in public places. Women often do not report such incidents, and sometimes refrain from complaining, thinking of the social stigmas they are likely to encounter.
The current #metoo movement has stirred the issue -- women from different spheres of life have started to speak up about the intimidation they have felt with a colleague, a senior, a teacher, a stranger -- making an indelible scar in their lives.
The constitution of Bangladesh has bestowed upon us various rights, which includes equality of opportunity in Article 19, and that women shall have equal rights as men in all spheres of the state under Article 28, right to protection of law under Article 31, protection of right to life and personal liberty under Article 32, and freedom of choice of profession or occupation under Article 40.
Thus, there is a whole array of fundamental rights that we can exercise, which our constitution has given us, but we are not even fully aware of our rights.
In 2017, a study of ActionAid found that a total of 54.7% women living in cities faced violence, including physical, psychological, financial, and social violence, while a survey conducted by Karmojibi Nari and Care Bangladesh states that about 12.7% of workers face sexual harassment at the workplace.
Furthermore, according to statistics of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Bangladesh, more than 10% of female police personnel face some form of sexual harassment at the workplace. These facts and figures just give a glimpse of the suffering faced by women in different fields of life.
Though there is no specific law on sexual harassment in the workplace, except a directive in the form of a guideline. In Bangladesh, there are various other laws with comes in aid to protect women. Not only do we have these current laws, we are also signatory to the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.
Hence, it is a basic fundamental human right for women to be able to work in a place free of bullying and harassment, where they can work equally with men, without any fear of being demeaned, or made to suffer mentally, emotionally, and physically, giving way to deteriorating performances in at work, educational institutions, public and private sectors.
Therefore, organizations and institutions should adopt strict guidelines on sexual harassment.
In 2010, a case reported discusses sexual harassment in workplaces while introducing the liability it creates for such matters, as it says that a person can be liable for torture as well as damages, for wrong done in this matter, and liability may also extend against the organization for failure to prevent sexual harassment and bullying.
In other words, while there may not be any explicit statutory law determining the matter related to sexual harassment in workplaces, the nation continues to cry for the need of a legal framework, and the appellate division on the above case has defined and explained the void. But it is merely a fragment of what needs to be done, and still requires further scrutiny.
In light of the movement across the world in minimizing violence and harassment against women, and holding those who are part of the problem accountable for their actions, it is high time the law in our country is passed and implemented, so we may do our part in overcoming one of the worst obstacles in society.
Sabrina Zarin is a Partner in FM Associates and an advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.