Sunday, April 15, 2012

sexual harassment

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1. Introduction

Sexual harassment, which includes anything from drawing attention to an individual’s body, causing embarrassment and demanding sexual favours, is a powerful discriminatory factor for anyone at any stage of their career. It is the conduct interferes with an employees work or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment. The victim as well as harasser of sexual harassment may be a women or a man. Differences in power or status can be a significant component in sexual harassment at workplace. Like many other countries in Bangladesh also men have the power in organization and professional life, while women are in subordinate position. This gender power discrimination causes sexual harassment where women who are powerless, are the main victims.

The European Commission offers a broader definition of sexual harassment as, “Sexual harassment” means unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, or other conduct based on sex affecting the dignity of women and men at work. This includes unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct. This conduct constitutes sexual harassment under three conditions the behaviour must be

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a) Unwanted, improper or offensive

b) Refusal or acceptance of behaviour influences decisions concerning a job and

c) The behaviour in question creates a working climate that is intimidating, hostile, or humiliating for the person.

(European Commission, 11 cited in Timmerman and Bajema4. Emphasis added.)

In Bangladesh, the Suppression of Violence Against Women and Children Act of January 1, 000, for the first time made sexual harassment a criminal offence punishable by law. Section 10 () of the Women and Children Act states that, If a man in order to satisfy his unlawful sexual desire touch a sexual organ or any other part of the body of a women with his organ or by any other object, it will be considered as sexual harassment.(Siddiquer R M, June 000)

The consequences of unchallenged sexual harassment are to poison the organizational culture, both in the long term and on a daily basis. So, prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment.

. Methodology

The essay contains some case study in Garment Factories, Banks, NGOs and other business firms to find out the occurrence of different types sexual harassment where most of the information are collected from Internet and magazine. To make the policy of prevention it takes the help of several acts like European Commission, Women and Children Act, Civil Rights Act, Equal Pay Act from home and abroad. The information for these Acts are taken from books and URL.

. Background

Sexual harassment is not new, nor is legal remedies against it. It has been recognized for nearly 0 years as a form of sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 164 states that, sexual harassment is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, age, national origin, and sex. Title VII of the Act prohibits employers from, among other things, discriminating on the basis of sex with respect to compensation, terms, conditions and privileges of employment.

Sexual harassment in employment has been defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct that enters into employment decisions and/or conduct that unreasonably interferes with an individuals work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. This guideline identifies two forms of sexual harassment

(1) Quid Pro Quo harassment; and

() Hostile work environment harassment.

Quid pro quo harassment Loosely translated, Quid Pro Quo means something for something. where the harasser demands sexual conduct as a condition for receiving a tangible benefit. This type of harassment occurs when an employee is required to choose between submitting to sexual advances and losing a tangible job benefit. An essential aspect of Quid Pro Quo harassment is the harassers power to control the employees employment benefits. This kind of harassment most often occurs between supervisor and subordinate. A claim of Quid Pro Quo harassment must meet several criteria

o The harassment was based on sex.

o The claimant was subjected to unwelcome sexual advances.

o A tangible economic benefit of the job was conditional on the claimants submission to the unwelcome sexual advances.

In quid pro quo cases, the harassment consists of Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.(Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Guideline #11(a)). Here Unwelcome means that the person did not invite or solicit the advances. This is determined by an objective standard and not the claimants subjective feelings. However, there is no requirement that these requests be express demands for sexual favors like, some one says, Sleep with me, or you will be fired !!

Hostile work environment harassment Hostile work environment harassment is unwelcome conduct that is so severe or pervasive as to change the conditions of the claimants employment and create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment where working environment becomes so offensive as to adversely affect an employees job performance.

There are several differences between hostile work environment harassment and Quid Pro Quo harassment. Hostile work environment harassment does not require an impact on an economic benefit. It can involve coworkers or third parties, not just supervisors. It is not limited to sexual advances; it can include hostile or offensive behavior based on the persons sex. It can occur even when the conduct is not directed specifically at the claimant but still impacts on his or her ability to perform the job. Three criteria must be met in a claim of harassment based on a hostile work environment

o The conduct was unwelcome.

o The conduct was severe, pervasive, and regarded by the claimant as so hostile or offensive as to alter his or her conditions of employment.

o The conduct was such that a reasonable person would find it hostile or offensive.

.1. Bangladesh perspective

According to statistics provided by Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) showed that among the garment workers across the country, women account for about 15 lakh. According to the 15-6 report of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, female labour force participation rate is 51 percent. Of this, 6 percent are engaged in agriculture-related works, 7 percent in service sector and 10 percent in industrial activities. The report bracketed about 1 million female workers within the age -group of 0 to 4 years. However, with more and more womenfolk coming to employment, harassment of women in their workplaces is mounting in Bangladesh. Women of all ages endure various types of harassment in offices and factories. Young and unmarried women are the worst victims. No doubt that most of that harassment committed are sexual harassment, even sometime raped.

Sexual harassment is commonplace in garment factories and women are threatened with dismissal if they speak out. The study conducted by Action Aid Bangladesh, a British NGO, estimates at least 0 percent of women workers were engaging in sex at the workplace where the harassment committed by their “bosses” and “security guards”. Even the journey to and from the workplace is fraught with danger. Women workers run the risk of rape and harassment. Even the garment factories in EPZ female workers including children, are sexually abused by Bangali and foreign managers. Apart from being touched, hugged, kissed and being “Compelled to satisfy the sexual appetites” of management in factory offices, attractive female workers are pressed into service as escorts for foreign visitors and sexually assaulted in hotels or guest houses. Some are sent abroad for training but actually “to be used as sex-slaves”.

The tales of harassment of women are not confined to the garment sector alone. It has been going on in almost all places, even at times in very reputed and respectable establishments.

.. Case studies

1. A student of Narayanganj Art Institute, Simi Banu lived with her parents and three siblings in Khilgaon, Dhaka. By all accounts, she was a vivacious, independent and outspoken young woman who was also talented and ambitious. Simi helped supplement her familys limited income by decorating wedding venues and working as a fashion designer for a firm. The nature of her work forced her to keep somewhat irregular hours, and she often returned home late (that is, after dark), and usually unaccompanied. Once she became a victim of sexual harassment. In her suicide note Simi wrote that the kind of harassment she had to endure was worse than being raped and left by the wayside. Simis crime was to be young, single and female, and out in public, unescorted, after dark.

Simi was not weak in a conventional sense. She was a strong, independent, and educated person who was aware of her rights under the law. She had sought advice from a womans organization. She threatened to lodge a case with the police. But as a working woman from a lower middle class background, she did not wield much social or economic power. The police not only did not protect her rights as a citizen, worker or woman but in the person of SI Bashar threatened to turn its frightening power against her. Local community assistance was not forthcoming either, it was firmly in favour of the boys from the mohalla. Her immediate family could offer little but moral support, and even that was withdrawn toward the end. In the circumstances, Simi could hardly take threats of acid attacks and possible harm of family members lightly. Simi intended her suicide to be interpreted as an act of protest and resistance, and a (desperate) means of capturing social attention. She ended her note by stating that hers was a sacrifice made to save other women from such an awful predicament.( Dina M S, March 00)

. In 10, a widow working as a typist in a well-known NGO was sexually harassed by her Directors Personal Secretary. When the matter became known, the secretary disappeared from the office. Consequently, she could not follow up any legal course against him. Neither she was helped by her office in this regard. Her colleagues only sympathised her. The woman who later gave birth to a boy child said, First I felt the brunt of physical abuse and now, the pain of an undestined mental agony. (Mahfuzur R and Rezaul K, February, 00 )

. Another female employee of the bank alleged that one day their Assistant General Manager (AGM) called her in his chamber on the plea of official work and then started talking about personal matters. Why dont you get married? Dont you have any biological demand? she quoted their AGM. (Mahfuzur R and Rezaul K, February, 00 )

4. Findings

The Bangladeshi law is fairly straightforward, and deals with the expression of inappropriate sexual desire and conduct. The current sexual harassment law in Bangladesh provides a point of departure, it says only about the physical assault but absolutely silent about the mental assault. But sexual harassment can be committed in both ways, physically and mentally. For the physical harassment our law has punishment but it has nothing against mental harassment. Our law is silent whether any propositions or request of any sexual nature, comments about victims body or any organ of the body, showing any video clips relating to sex, jokes or derogatory statements will be treated as sexual harassment or not.

In our country since there is no law for the sexual harassment in working place or “hostile working environment” the employers are free from any bindings and to follow the law. There is no rule or guideline for the employer that will be, followed both the employers and the employee. Many of the offices do not have their own “harassment policy”. Many female workers are subjected to different kinds of harassment in the office. When any complaint is made to the higher authority, the punishment takes place only in transferring the person concerned to another department. Is this the solution to end harassment of women in workplaces?

The complaint procedure section of harassment policy is critical to successfully processing a harassment claim. An employee must know to whom she can go to make a complaint. Once the complaint is made, the employer must take action right away.

In our country, the rate of sexual harassment is very much high in the garments sector and thereafter in NGOs. Garments workers are often the victims of harassment because they are powerless? In a patriarchal society like Bangladesh’s, female workers almost never discuss their sexual problems with outsiders because there will be a negative attitude toward them. Even they could attack by thugs. If they are harassed they just leave the factory without saying a word.

Men have power in organizations and professional life, while women are in subordinate positions. Men often see them as objects of male desire. The sexual exploitation of women by men occurs when men have direct power over women’s conditions of work. This gender-power relation creates “gender discrimination” and that causes sexual harassment at workplace.

From economical point of view, “wage discrimination” also an issue for sexual harassment. In Bangladesh many garments, factories and constructional site it is a very common scenario that male labour/workers are getting more money than female labour/workers though they do same amount of work. This “wage discrimination” indirectly indicates that men are more powerful then women, which is a key reason why women are always targeted or victim of harassment.

Finally, sexual harassment violates our Fundamental Rights guaranteed by our Constitution. Part III of our Constitution; Article 8 (sec ) states “Women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and of public life.” But unfortunately in real life women are neglected everywhere. Again, in Article (sec ) states “No citizen shall, on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect if, any employment or office in the service of the Republic.” If this Act is valid in our country then there should not be any harassment at workplace. But unfortunately we are not aware of the Acts of our constitution.

5. Recommendations

Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment. Implementation of law, Acts, policy making and ensuring fundamental human right for all citizens for a secured society are the basic necessary steps for prevention.

At present we have Suppression of Violence Against Women and Children Act 000 where in section 10 indicates two things namely touching of a female organ and improper attitude though improper attitude has not been defined. This Act provides rigorous imprisonment of not more than ten years and not less than three years and monetary fine for sexual harassment.(Siddiquer R M, June 000) The Act should be amended both in definition clause and punishment clause. This Act only deals with the physical harassment and absolutely silent about the mental harassment and about its punishment. So, we must implement such a law that will deals with mental assault too where punishment should be specific for specific type of harassment. Because we believe until and unless both physical and mental harassment is not included in the law, both prevention and punishment will be impossible.

Secondly, Every employer has to follow a Rule of Modesty or its own harassment policy. The policy should include a description of conduct that constitutes harassment; a statement supporting employees rights to complain about sexual harassment without retaliation and a description of how to make the complaint; and an explanation of the procedure that will be used to investigate a harassment complaint and the standards that will be used to evaluate it. The policy should make clear that the company will not tolerate harassment and that offenders will be penalized and claimants protected, and that fair and objective means will be used to achieve these goals. The policy should be posted and distributed to all employees if possible; at least, it should be posted prominently.

The single most effective action any company can take is for its management to set an example and to speak out clearly and authoritatively. The best policy and program can be undermined or even destroyed if company leaders speak jokingly or derisively about sexual harassment, or engage in behavior that sets a poor example.

Third, The complaint procedure section of harassment policy should not be critical to successfully processing a harassment claim. Once the complaint is made, the employer must take action right away. The employer should

1. Inform the claimant of her rights to recover for any injury, which may have taken place. These rights will vary from state to state. Employer’s attorney can provide with current information regarding claimants rights in its jurisdiction

. Promptly investigates the claim with sensitivity, care and confidentiality.

It is very important that the investigator be neutral and not intimidating, and that they make clear their goal is to arrive at the truth, not slant it or cover it up. The investigator should thoroughly interview both the claimant and the alleged harasser to determine specific charges and responses to those charges.

Forth, in garment sector the main reason for conduct of sexual harassment is garment workers are powerless. If they protest the assault or claim for justice individually, they are not going to get that. Workers organization or labour union can be the solution of this problem. Union will work for the welfare of the workers, help the workers to establish their rights and claim justice for them. But the activities of this type of union should be in a peaceful way.

Fifth, equality of opportunity in employment is the only solution of “gender discrimination” in professional life. Employer should be careful about Equal Opportunity Acts written in Article of our Constitution (mentioned at the end of the Findings of this essay) and may not practice gender discrimination in the recruitment, promotion, transfer, dismissal, and retirement of employees.

Sixth, to remove “wage discrimination” from the working place we must implement Equal Pay Act (EPA) in our country. The act that requires male and female workers receive equal pay for work requiring equal skill, effort and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions.

Finally, we must show our respect to our Constitution and follow the Articles specially, Article 8 & because these two Articles play indirectly an important role to stop sexual harassment from not only the workplace but also from the society.

6. Conclusion

Sexual harassment is an unwelcome and unwanted conduct of sexual nature. We must stop this sexual harassment as we are promised to create a society in which the rule of law, fundamental human right and freedom, equality and justice, political, economic and social, will be secured for all citizens. We have also guaranteed the right to life and liberty of all the people. Moreover, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) directs all the state parties to take appropriate measures to stop all kinds of discrimination against women. As a signatory of this International documents, we must follow some effective measures.

1. Siddiquer Rahman Miah. “Nari o Shishu Nirjaton Domon Ain abog Joutuk NirodhAin” Kamrul Book House, Dhaka, June 000.

. Dina M. Siddiqi. “Sexual Harassment and the Public Woman” Daily Star Weekly Magazine March 00.

. Mahfuzur Rahman and Rezaul Karim. “Harassment and hazards of working women in Bangladesh” The Daily Star 0 February 00. (

4. Mohammed Ziaul Hoque. “Sexual Harassment in Bangladesh Prevention and penalty” The Daily Star 7 October 00. (

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