Three-way cooperation among the government, workers and employers’ organisations is required to properly implement the High Court guidelines to prevent sexual harassment of women at workplaces and educational institutions, speakers said at a discussion yesterday.
Besides, the government needs to ratify the International Labour Organization’s “Convention Concerning the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work” and bring necessary changes in existing laws in line with it, they said.
CARE Bangladesh and The Daily Star jointly organised the roundtable on “Preventing Discrimination and Harassment of Women at Workplace” at The Daily Star Centre.
In a landmark judgment in 2009, the HC issued a guideline to prevent sexual harassment of women. It also directed the government to make a law based on the guidelines, and ruled that the guidelines will be treated as law until the law is formulated.
Addressing the roundtable, Advocate Salma Ali -- who filed the petition that resulted in the judgment -- said it needed to be seen how much the directive has been followed.
The guidelines termed sexual harassment a punishable offence, and directed organisations and educational institutions to form committees to prevent it, she said.
Whether this has been followed should be checked, she said, adding that it needs to be found why the government did not formulate the law yet, she added.
CARE Bangladesh Director (women and girls’ empowerment) Humaira Aziz said prevalence of gender gap was highest in Bangladesh among South Asian countries in 2017 and 2018.
Ratifying the ILO convention will be a significant step to prevent harassment against women, she said.
It is the reality that many victims of sexual harassment cannot share their ordeals because of social obstacles, said Ain O Salish Kendra Executive Director Sheepa Hafiza.
She said prevalence of sexual harassment against women is high in garments sector, and organisations and industries have to create favourable environment where victims can express their woes without feeling hesitant.
“Preventing sexual harassment is possible, if the intention is there,” she added.
Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal lawmaker Shirin Akter said the definition of “sexual harassment” is not specific in existing labour law, which needs to change.
She said under the current circumstances, a sexually harassed woman finds it hard to fulfill her potential, and is forced to limit her movement.
She stressed for comprehensive learning mechanism at schools, families and society to prevent occurrence of sexual harassment.
Farooq Ahmed, secretary general of Bangladesh Employers’ Federation, said the society needed to be prepared before the government can ratify the ILO convention.
Kamrul Hasan, acting president of Jatiya Sramik Federation, said they will work to convince the government to ratify the convention.
Abdur Razzaque, vice president of Jatiya Sramik Jote Bangladesh, said both employers and workers have to work together to stop sexual harassment against women.
Sharmin Jahan, programme officer of the government’s Multi-Sectoral Programme on Violence against Women, said at present they are providing training to a number of school teachers which will help them teach adolescent students about sexual harassment and its prevention.