The Immodest Truth: An Evaluation of the Measures Taken to Combat Sexual Harrassment in Bangladesh


In recent years, the issue of sexual harassment has dominated the media and public consciousness in Bangladesh. This article evaluates the legislative and judicial measures taken to combat sexual harassment. Arguing that sexual harassment is best understood as a form of gender-based discrimination, this article finds the existing legislative provisions largely unsatisfactory. Constrained by an understanding of sexual harassment that perceives the issue as tied up with questions of womanly “modesty”, the existing provisions privilege the perspective of the perpetrator rather than the victim and focus upon the character of women rather than the violence done to them. This article also offers a critical analysis of the two landmark judgments passed down by the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, enacting guidelines on sexual harassment; Ms. Salma Ali (BNWLA) v Bangladesh & Ors. 29 BLD (HCD) (2009) 415 and BNWLA v Government of Bangladesh and Ors. 31 BLD (HCD) (2011) 324. It argues that whilst the judgments have introduced the language of discrimination to sexual harassment discourse in Bangladesh, they have not been able to rid themselves of the myths of womanly modesty that pervade the existing legislative provisions. They do not demonstrate an adequate understanding of the discrimination frame they purport to support and there is a risk that the promises made within are likely to remain largely symbolic, rather than being translated into de facto rights for the women of Bangladesh.

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