Every workplace must have an anti-sexual harassment policy, experts said at a roundtable discussion yesterday.
“We need these guidelines to decide what to do when somebody speaks out about an incident of sexual harassment. It is not enough to just show solidarity,” said Khushi Kabir, coordinator of Nijera Kori.
The roundtable titled “#MeToo Movement: Background, Impact and Relevance” was organised by Nijera Kori and Sangat Bangladesh at The Daily Star Centre.
“These policies must be in accordance to the directives given by the High Court in 2009,” said Salma Ali, eminent women's rights lawyer.
The guidelines she mentioned refer to a landmark judgment given by the High Court, based on a writ petition filed by Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association.
The judgment instructed all educational institutes and workplaces to have anti-sexual harassment policies in place, and to establish committees to investigate the claims, said experts.
“Sexual harassment is not a vague term; there is a very clear set of actions that constitute sexual harassment,” said Dr Mehtab Khanam, chairperson of Dhaka University's Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology. It is therefore definitely possible to have policies defining what sexual harassment is, she added.
The statute of limitations, that define how long after an incident a case can be filed, should not exist, said Naseem Ferdous, the first woman to go into foreign service in Bangladesh. “We must press for a law to curb workplace sexual harassment,” she added, “But I know the government unfortunately has no appetite for this.”
“We must also teach our women how to preserve evidence,” added Ali.
“From the minute the women speak out, their whole lives and all their actions are scrutinised,” said Khushi Kabir.
Eminent rights activist Sultana Kamal pressed all involved to turn the #metoo social media movement into concrete actions.
Eminent photographer and activist Shahidul Alam said, “As children, men are socially conditioned to not feel certain emotions, so they grow up with anger and without empathy.”
A number of women, who used the hashtag #MeToo to speak out on social media about their experiences with sexual harassment, were present at the event.
“The biggest impact of such an event is the trauma that the survivor has to live with. The one thing I remember most clearly is the sound of his zipper unzipping,” said Tashnuva Anan Shishir, a transwoman who brought allegations against Shahidul Islam Bizu, managing director of the bookstore Pathak Shamabesh. “I spoke out on Facebook, not because I expected justice, but to create awareness. When rape case victims do not get justice, how would I?”
“I did not share my story to become famous. I did it to create awareness,” said Musfika Laiju, who had brought allegations against the late Selim Al-Deen, preeminent thespian and founder chairperson of the Department of Drama and Dramatics at Jahangirnagar University.