Bangladesh: Women Commit Suicide to Escape Sexual Harassment

Publication Date: 
February 19, 2011
Asia Calling
Resisting sexual harrassment in Bangladesh

Sexual harassment against women in Bangladesh is turning deadly. According to local human rights groups 28 women committed suicide this year to escape frequent sexual harassment. Before killing themselves most of them wrote a note demanding an end to the sexual harassment known locally as ‘eve teasing’ where boys intercept girls on the street, and shout obscenities, laugh at them, pull or touch them or worse. Afroza Begum sits at the kitchen table and hands me the note her daughter wrote before she killed herself.

It reads...‘I have been suffering for a long time and the hands of those bad boys. I tried my best to live. But I have no weapon to stop them.’

After writing this she drank poison. Afroza begum lost her youngest daughter.

Her daughter had told her the same group of boys had thrown burnt cigarettes at her chest, injected urine from a syringe on her and tried to cut her hair.

For the last ten years since her death, Afroza has been searching for justice.

She has gone to the police and influential people in her community demanding that the boys who harassed her daughter face justice.

Nothing has happened. 

“I want justice. I get so tired of talking to the media. Can you ensure the punishment of Shimi’s killers?”

It takes a brave woman to speak out against sexual harassment.

Late last year hundreds of students and some teachers took to the streets outside the gates of Jahangir Nagar University.

They came in support of a female teacher who has accused a superior of sexual harassment.

But the teacher herself wasn’t at the protest. She was inside the classroom with her face covered, hiding her identity.

“If I reveal my identity, people will see me on television, newspapers will print my photo. I will be treated very badly, isn’t that right?”

Sexual harassment or eve teasing as it’s known locally is extremely widespread in Bangladesh.

And is accepted as ‘normal’ by many men here.

Jafar Hasan, a university student is sitting in a roadside tea shall.

“A girl should cover herself properly, if they don’t it and don’t wear a scarf or keep herself modestly dress, and then a man will not be able to control himself from doing bad things. A man can’t control his sexual desire!”

Abdur Rashid, works in a nearby stationary shop.

“Men can make sounds or make any comment to women! That’s our right, we can do it!”

In front of a shopping mall a group of young female students say sexual harassment is part of everyday life.

Ayesha Begaum is one of them.

“Bad boys, just roam all around, stand in front of the girls school or women’s college, they look at us rudely and say dirty things and make sexual signs with their hands.”

Faria Ahmed is an NGO worker.

“In our country situation is so bad even a poor person like a rickshaw puller can harass a woman! The men are bad! We woman never care or comment about what a man is wearing, but they don’t respect our freedom.”

In this office female lawyers are fighting to change the situation.

In 2008 the Bangladesh women lawyers association filed a petition in the high court demanding an end to sexual harassment inside institutions and on the street.

After two years of fighting the Supreme Court ruled that every business or college must have a place where women can safely make complaints about sexual harassment.

Salma Ali, the executive director of BNWLA says it’s a step forward but much more needs to be done.

“Women don’t feel like complaining, because, if they complain, they will not be allowed to go outside. Parents will say better you stay at home. When the girls are married she has to stop going to the office, or accept pressure from her husband. There are so many challenges for women. And the complaints office should be women led, but in most of the cases, institutions are not following that.”

But there are some small signs that things are changing.

A young female patient and her family have surrounded the director of the Sheikh Mujib medical university, the biggest hospital in the country.

They are here to complain about sexual harassment of the girl by one of the doctors Saiful Islam.

He tries to defend himself.

“I didn’t do anything bad. For check up we have to touch patients. I tried to move her to the picture board so that I can investigate her eyes properly.”

“But for eye testing you don’t need to touch the body, remember where were your hands what did you do?”

After listening to all the evidence the doctor was suspended from the hospital.

By: Farzana Rupa