Opening Up about Sexual Harassment and SRHR
“Why do school boys consider enacting violence against women and girls as a heroic act?”
“Why are the girls excluded from the playground in schools?”
“Why don’t girls report sexual harassment in schools?”
These are some of the questions that were discussed in the “Youth Advocacy Forum on Preventing Violence against Women and Girls: Addressing Masculinities and Promoting SRHR Education”. Center for Men and Masculinities Studies (CMMS) in association with Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka, and United Nations Youth and Students Association of Bangladesh (UNYSAB) organised this engaging and timely dialogue session in IBA, Dhaka University. Around 100 college and university students, gender justice activists and researchers and eminent personalities took part in the discussion.
A group of teachers and students who have participated in CMMS’ SRHR education programme called “The Campus Hero Café” shared their experiences about how they have been disseminating SRHR education in the rural areas of Bangladesh. Md Shamsul Alam, a teacher of Jafarganj High School, Rangpur, says, “In most of the schools in the rural areas of Rangpur, female students hardly go to playground to take part in outdoor sports events. However, after teaching our students about SRHR, things have changed positively. We have arranged a cricket tournament solely for female students in our school playground and all the male students helped to organise the tournament.”
However, CMMS’ baseline study revealed that still in many schools, where SRHR education could not be disseminated, things are not that hopeful. CMMS’s research revealed that 58 percent male students think that making forceful relationship with girls is heroic. The sexual harassment complaint mechanism in many educational institutions was found entirely inactive. 96 percent male students play in the school playground up to secondary level whereas female students are allowed there only up to primary level.
Divided into small groups, the participants discussed about these problems among themselves and proposed some solutions. Saira Afrin, a post-graduate student of Dhaka University and a gender rights activist, says, “Most of the female students cannot report about sexual harassment in schools due to our culture of victim blaming. We should increase awareness about the consequences of victim-blaming through SRHR education programmes.” Partho Saroti Roy, an independent researcher in SRHR, says, “The sexual harassment prevention committee of the educational institutions exist only in papers. The guardians should be made conscious about it so that they can influence the institutions to activate this committee.”
Dr Syed Saikh Imtiaz, Chairperson, CMMS, took note of the recommendations proposed by the participants. He said that the next community-based activism of The Campus Hero Café programme will focus on establishing girls’ rights on school playground. They will also mobilise guardians so that they can eliminate the social taboo regarding SRHR and encourage their children to get the right knowledge.
Honourable State Minister, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, Meher Afroz Chumki, MP, was the Chief Guest of this session. Dr Annie Vestjens, First Secretary, SRHR and Gender, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, was the Guest of Honour, while Professor Dr Abul Barkat, President, Bangladesh Economic Association (BEA) and Professor Dr Saiful Majid, Director, Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka, were present as the Special Guests.