A national conference organised by Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), and Christian Aid, echoed the stories of gender violence in the legal profession. Suggestions from the activists and professionals glimmered on the implementation of the anti-sexual harassment guidelines and the need for gender sensitisation training at workplaces. The conference of 29 May, 2018 was held under the title, “Women in Justice: Equality and Inclusion.”
The ‘Participation of Women in Establishing their Rights’ (PoWER )Project undertaken by BLAST allowed the equality research fellows to identify and address the practical difficulties faced by women legal professionals. The research findings included, inter alia, sexual harassment by seniors, gender stereotyping, lack of family support, lack of facilities for women in the courts such as separate toilets, baby care facilities, breastfeeding corner. As the findings and recommendations were shared in the conference, an open discussion followed thereafter.
Taslima Yasmin, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Dhaka and Lead Researcher, PoWER Project, enlightened the participants about the sexual harassment guidelines which she thinks even many lawyers are unaware of. She highlighted the need for training of lawyers on gender issues.
Dr. Md. Zohurul Islam, Chairman, Department of Law, Islamic University, Kushtia, said that in our society a woman is always seen as a good mother but they are good lawyers, good teachers and good activists too. He suggested the idea of mandatory internship for law students as a way to increase the number of woman lawyers.
Dr. Faustina Pereira, Human Rights & Democracy Specialist, emphasised on the reviewing of application for establishing committees which would monitor the incidents of gender abuse. She also drew attention to post-training assessment to ensure maximum impact. Ms. Pereira believes that incidents of abuse or harassment of any woman in the legal profession not only affect the victims but the whole judiciary bears an indirect impact. She proposed that the courts should be developed into a professional workplace environment and ended with the optimism that the judiciary being an institution that developed throughout time, the environment can surely be developed with a combined effort.
Dr. Shahnaz Huda, Professor of Law, University of Dhaka, said that the sufferings of women in the legal profession are not limited only to sexual harassment and she lamented that even after so many years of her work, the same problems still subsist. But she remarked positively that the female students nowadays are more confident than ever.
Md. Golam Kibria, Director (Training), Judicial Administration Training Institute, agreed upon the need for training and assessment and further added that facilities should be increased for woman clients as well.
“I don’t see myself as a woman, I’m a human being first,” said Hon’ble Justice Naima Haider, Supreme Court of Bangladesh. Speaking as the chief guest in the event, she said that women in the legal profession have to prove their own worth instead of thinking about their gender. She shared her own life story—how she thrived over the gender challenges. She commented that if there is no implementation of the introduced guidelines, then the incidents of harassment and abuse would keep recurring.
Advocate Z.I. Khan Panna, Member, BLAST Trustee Board, in the concluding speech said that the participation of woman in court has amplified which is evident from the number of woman voters in the Court. He believes that many lawyers even don’t understand that they are abusing their female co-workers, therefore, he reemphasized on the training and implementation of the guidelines.
Event covered by Raihan Rahman Rafid, intern at Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST)