Female students not safe even at educational institutions

Prothom Alo illustration
Sketch SM Rakibur Rahman

Sumaiya (pseudonym) is a fourth grader at a school in the capital city. A few months ago she was harassed in front of her classmates without any reason. It was during break when suddenly a teacher appeared at the classroom. She told Sumaiya, “Do you come here to act in a movie? Why do you move around this way?”

The girl was shocked at the insult. The teacher had behaved the way with several girl students earlier as well. When Sumaiya repeated the incident to her father, he complained about it to the school authorities. The school authorities verbally warned the teacher.

Sumaiya’s father said, “We guardians want to feel safe sending our children to school. But their safety is not ensured there. This is lawlessness.”

Harassed Sumaiya got sympathy from her family but that was not the case with Rumki (pseudonym) from Kaliganj in Satkhira. Her family rebuked her when she informed them of the harassment by teacher at school. Many students like Sumaiya and Rumki face harassment and violence at school. In most of the cases they do not say anything to anyone. It is not male teachers only, the harassers include classmates and female teachers. Teachers are supposed to be the protectors.

Around 74 per cent female students in Bangladesh face violence and harassment at educational institutions, reveals a study conducted by Plan International, a non-government development organisation. Recently the results of the research were presented at a discussion ‘Fear of Violence No More’ in the capital. The research was conducted to assess the situation of girl child and women who face violence and harassment in the family, educational institutions, the workplace and at public places.

The students inform their parents and the parents come to us. The parents sometime restrict the movement of their daughters as a protective measure
Nina Goswami, Ain o Salish Kendra director (programme)

The study was conducted on 2,232 women and children aged between 10 and 24 years. The children of Khulna division face the violence and harassment the most (89.7 per cent), followed by Barishal (80 per cent). In Rajshahi the number is 78.8 per cent, the research said.

There are different types of harassment at educational institutions. Over 11 per cent students said they faced harassment by male teachers, which is the highest. This is followed by physical harassment by male classmates. Around 4.8 per cent female students got objectionable messages on mobile phone from classmates or seniors. About 5.5 per cent students face sexual harassment by male teachers while 21.3 per cent classmates behave in an indecent way. The female students also hear humiliating remarks both from male and female teachers.

These incidents of harassment affect the students’ activities too. Nearly 3.5 per cent female students tried to commit suicide because of harassment while 6.2 per cent stopped going out of their homes, 9.6 per cent gave up studying and nearly 11 per cent female students fell ill. Over 90 per cent of the respondents became victims of severe depression because of facing harassment regularly.

About 56 per cent of the respondents say they accept the harassment silently while 31 per cent say they file complaints to the teachers and 50 per cent inform their parents.

Around 54 per cent of the fathers are reluctant to send their daughters to coaching or private tutors fearing they might face harassment. On the other hand, 62 per cent of the mothers are reluctant to send their daughters on school picnics.

The research also reveals that 48 per cent women do not allow their daughters to compete in annual sports events at school while 38 per cent women do not even allow their daughters to go to such events.

The incidents of harassment and oppression could decrease if there is are institutional facilities to hear and redress such complaints, says Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a rights organisation. ASK works at 20 schools in five districts – Gaibandha, Kishoreganj, Kushtia, Jhenaidah and Naogaon.

ASK director (programmes) Nina Goswami said, “The number of incidents of harassment has decreased beyond our expectation at schools we work at. I feel this was due to the facility to listen to the complaints.”

ASK files allegations of violation of rights at a national level. A section of the complaints is about harassment or oppression of school students. Basically, the parents of students who study at schools in the capital city file the complaints. And, most of the allegations are against male teachers, said Nina Goswami.

“The students inform their parents and the parents come to us. The parents sometime restrict the movement of their daughters as a protective measure,” she added.

Banasree Mitra, gender advisor at Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), thinks the perpetrators of harassment or oppression do the same in their families too. And, there is a tendency in the society to trivialise and accept those incidents socially. These attempts of making those acceptable must be broken.

She further said every educational institution is supposed to have committees to deal with such oppression and harassment. But in many cases such a committee does not exist.

Banasree Mitra stressed on government and non-government initiatives to ensure such committees.

* The report, originally published in Nari Mancho, a supplement of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten into English by Shameem Reza