Laws in place must to stop harassment

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

In a civilised society public spaces are naturally considered safe for women. But in recent years, the reality of the country has changed that idea. Gang-rape, sexual harassment, especially in moving buses, have raised big questions about the safety of women in the public places.

Recently the joint online survey of National Human Rights Commission, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Awami League's Centre for Research and Information (CRI) shows that the picture of women's oppression in the public sphere is alarming. Almost 57 per cent of women who participated in the survey said that public transport is the most unsafe for them.

Prothom Alo reports that 87 per cent of women are victims of harassment in public transport and terminals such as buses, launches or trains. Women are also being harassed in public spaces like roads, shopping malls and shops. Incidents of bullying and harassment are constantly occurring in social media such as Facebook, Messenger, Instagram or Twitter.

The survey gives an idea of what kind of oppression women are subjected to in the public sector. Eve teasing is the most common occurrence. Women also voiced their opinions on how to protect themselves from harassment. Most of the participants felt that rape happens because of lack of respect for women.

They feel that proper upbringing, proactiveness of law enforcement and proper enforcement of laws are necessary to stop bullying. Most women feel that it is necessary to continue protesting against oppression. But in reality, only 35 per cent of women protested against the incidents. Only 1 per cent called the national emergency service 999 or reported to law enforcement.

The survey was conducted to raise awareness about the issue of rape among the masses and draw the attention of policymakers. What is clear from the outcome of the survey is that public spaces are becoming increasingly unsafe for women. One of the reasons for this can be found in the comments of the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission. He said that there is no specific law to prevent sexual harassment in Bangladesh. A draft law in this regard has been submitted to the ministry.

Lack of women's safety in public places is undoubtedly a matter of concern. There is no scope to consider this as a major obstacle in terms of women's empowerment and socio-economic development. To end this, first of all, a change in attitude towards women is required.

Family, social and institutional education can help change this notion in the long run. But it is necessary to formulate and implement specific laws as an immediate step to stop sexual harassment and abuse. Also, the attitude of law and order forces also needs to be changed.

It is necessary to understand why 99 per cent of women victims of harassment do not report. Without legal protection along with social safety nets, it is not possible to end the widespread menace of rape.