4 years ago

Sexual harassment: A class or mindset problem?

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Amira is a Bangladeshi girl belonging to a middle-class family who needed to travel to several coaching centres in Dhaka for her SSC exam before Covid-19 pandemic. She aspires to be a cardiologist in future and studies sincerely-- never missing a single lecture. However, one problem she reported is eve-teasing, which she faced on a regular basis. Two of the boys in her class harassed her with sexually inappropriate jokes everyday. It was surprising how in a coaching centre filled with parents waiting for their children, Amira was harassed regularly and could not gather courage to rebuke those boys.
Sexual harassment has been one of the biggest problems in developing countries like Bangladesh. Every girl here experiences some sort of discomfort during such incidents. People living in society have been reading news and headlines telling them about what causes sexual harassment. But girls hardly retaliate during such encounters. So the important question that ought to be raised here is why women tolerate. Are women from a specific social strata more prone to be a victim of the said harassment? Or does a woman with a particular mindset become more susceptible to be a prey?

In order to reach the root, a deep dive is needed, where everything literally begins. Mehrin is a thirty-five year old businesswoman in Bangladesh who is a member of the upper-class. She uses her car to travel to all places, avoiding walking at any cost. Yet, in spite of being liberal and having the privilege to protect herself from roadside eve-teasing, she is still a victim of the perpetual loop of sexual harassment. She stated that harassers are everywhere-- from the workplace male supervisor to the car driver-- no one is incapable of not being a harasser. This example simply concludes that being rich does not automatically vanish the issues of sexual harassment either.
Simone de Beauvoire, the writer of the renowned book on feminism- 'The Second Sex', mentioned in her writing, "Women's mutual understanding comes from the fact that they identify themselves with each other; but for the same reason each is against the others." This statement, if pondered upon properly, provides a deeper insight to the root of the problem. Women identify themselves as the weaker gender from the moment they grasp the concept of gender, and over time, when they become sufferers of the herd mentality, realise sharing womanly problems with one another brings them closer as a community. This endows them with a sense of power and comfort, which they fail to enjoy in the masculine world. They simply do not believe that rather than talking about issues, they have the capability to stand up for their rights and bring in communal change.
The harassers for this particular reason take women's individual silence as granted and perceive them as impotent. The second segment of Simone de Beauvoire's quote- "but for the same reason each is against the others'' is a crucial reflection of a typical Bangladeshi household, where women do not raise their voice against the physical and psychological abuse they encounter. It is partially because raising voice is perceived as unwomanly-- a trait strongly attributed to men-- making them appear as the dominant component of the gender spectrum.
The theory of behaviourism assumes that a person's behaviour is an accumulation of reflexes to his or her antecedent stimuli or history and accordingly, women in the Bangladeshi society are confined to walls of silence and tolerance towards the masculine reign. Furthermore, another component of psychology- object permanence ensures that girls from a young age become habituated to male domination. In this context, object permanence emphasises that the louder, visible objects gain more significance to human beings due to their reinforcement effect. That's why women grow up believing that their voices will do nothing more than bouncing back from the overwhelming male voices in the society to just echo around in their cocoons.
The development begins from the period where young girls see their mothers tirelessly serving their in-laws just to please their husbands, from the time fathers get up from the dinner table if the food tastes bad, from the moment young girls are hushed by their mothers to not utter a single word about the gruesome events of sexual harassment in fear of tarnishing the girl's reputation for future marriage. Evenmore, when numerous women in villages and even in urban regions of Bangladesh see other women protesting for their rights, the former group experiences a severe identity crisis, blaming Western cultural imperialism for the unethical acts demonstrated by 'modern-minded' girls of this country. In the process of maintaining conformity to the social morals, women unintentionally end up being enemies of one another.
According to ActionAid, 80 per cent of garment workers in Bangladesh have undergone sexual violence and harassment at workplace in 2019. As per the statistics of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Bangladesh in 2018, more than 10 per cent of the female police population encounters some form of sexual harassment at their workplace. The numbers are alarmingly increasing day by day in every sector, from ready-made garment (RMG) to law enforcing, from education to service. The government has pushed through several legislative reforms, but no major changes in society can be observed. However, the government should not be solely blamed for this. Change always begins from home. The mother who is keeping quiet should start speaking up for her rights and set an example for her daughter; open discussions about sexual harassment with children should be made mandatory in every household; young girls must be encouraged to share their viewpoints about family matters what would enhance their decision-making capabilities.
It is high time women in Bangladesh stopped relying on men to lead the change. It is high time that women stop perceiving themselves as a taboo. One woman's strong voice can scare a sexual harasser away. A million women's voices can combat and conquer sexual harassment forever.

The writer is studying BBA at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka. She can be reached at
[email protected]

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