UCA News
Contribute

Women suffer amid rampant sexual abuse in Bangladesh

Suicide of a female student has exposed how widespread such crimes are in the male-dominated and conservative country
Students in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka shout slogans to protest against an alleged gang rape of a woman in the southern district of Noakhali in 2020

Students in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka shout slogans to protest against an alleged gang rape of a woman in the southern district of Noakhali in 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 05, 2024 07:27 AM GMT
Updated: April 05, 2024 10:33 AM GMT

Kazi Farjana is back in her residence in Rajbari district of central Bangladesh after spending two days in hospital following a sudden loss of consciousness.

The 26-year-old final year graduate student of the Film and Television department at Jagannath University, a state-run institute in the capital Dhaka, was suffering from extreme stress, doctors said.

A distraught Farjana revealed that her anxiety derives from a nightmare — sexual abuse by a teacher four years ago.

“I was called to a private office with a promise of a part-time job when I was still a fresher. He suddenly started to molest me before I freed myself and rushed outside,” Farjana told UCA News on March 31.

At the time in 2019, she was in a vulnerable situation after losing her laptop and mobile phone in a mugging incident that also left her right arm fractured.

Her life was turned upside down when she filed complaints with her department about the abuse by Abu Shahed.

“I lost my health and academic career and am on the brink of losing my mind"

“I have been given fail grades intermittently and even in my final year viva-voce exams, which is unbelievable. This was punishment for speaking out against sexual harassment,” she said.

Farjana said the department’s male chairman sided with the offender, a married man. Instead, she was reprimanded for “tarnishing the image” of the university and asked to quit studying altogether.

“I lost my health and academic career and am on the brink of losing my mind,” she said.

On March 21, the university suspended Shahed following massive protests by students at  Jagannath University. The suicide of a female student triggered it.

Law student Fairuz Abontika hanged herself from a ceiling fan in her home in southeastern Cumilla district on March 15, allegedly because of sexual abuse, harassment, and intimidation by a classmate and a teacher in the same institute.

In her suicide note, Abontika blamed her classmate Amman Siddiqui and teacher-cum-proctor Deen Islam.

Following the protests, police arrested both the accused and put them behind bars.

It also led to the suspension of Shahed, which Farjana said, did not bring any relief for her.

“This man will come after me. He will never let me have a happy and peaceful life,” she said.

Abontika's suicide highlighted how sexual harassment and the rape of women is going on unabated in the male-dominant and socially and religiously conservative Muslim-majority nation, Farjana said.

"Due to various factors, the victims remain silent while the abusers remain free"

“Abontika was a very strong woman who could make up her mind to stop living in a society where sexual predators are respected, protected and prospered,” she added.

A series of sexual abuse allegations against teachers has rocked some of the nation’s top public universities in recent months.

In February, Dhaka University made headlines after a female student accused, Naadir Junaid, a teacher in the Mass Communication and Journalism department, of making sexually suggestive remarks about her body and expressing his sexual interest in her during phone conversations.

She also alleged Naadir gave her bad grades for not responding to his indecent advances.

In January, a student at Chittagong University complained that her thesis supervisor, Mahbubul Matin, sexually abused her and tried to rape her on Jan. 13.

Such allegations were raised in three other public universities — Jahangirnagar University, Khulna University, and Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University, in recent months.

Due to various factors, the victims remain silent while the abusers remain free, according to a recent survey.

Only 10 percent of sexual harassment victims reported the crime to the proper authorities in 2022-23, the study conducted on 200 students at Rajshahi University in northern Bangladesh revealed.

About half of the perpetrators were male students and the rest were teachers and outsiders, mostly connected to the ruling Awami League party and its associate organizations.

“The situation is similar everywhere,” said Abdul Alim, the study's author and a professor of law at Rajshahi University.

"Anti-sexual harassment guidelines have been reduced to a political tool when rarely applied to weaken an opponent"

Alim said the university’s Sexual Harassment Prevention Committee received only 34 complaints between 2010-23 and of them 27 were investigated.

“Action taken based on the probes was too few to be mentioned,” he said, alleging that most probe reports were never presented to the syndicate, the main decision-making body of the university.

“The anti-sexual harassment guidelines have been reduced to a political tool when rarely applied to weaken an opponent or take revenge,’ said Alim, referring to the abuse of  2011 guidelines from the nation’s High Court by rival political student groups.

The top court asked the government to enforce the guidelines until a fully-fledged law was passed to protect women and children from sexual abuse.

While no law has been formulated, the guidelines have remained largely ignored.

The court directive came following an uproar against a rise in sexual harassment of women and girls after 2009.

Women remain vulnerable to sex crimes due to a lack of social security, says a report from Dhaka-based rights group Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK).

At least 114 women were raped and 137 became victims of domestic violence including 65 murders and 49 suicides in the first three months of this year, said the ASK report released on April 1.

Unrestrained masculinity embedded with anti-women radicalism imported by millions of Bangladeshi migrant workers from rich, Salafist Persian Gulf states is fueling misogyny in society, gender experts say.

"It is shameful that even top universities are not educating students on sexual harassment"

The phenomenon is further aggravated by male dominance and a lack of gender education at all levels, they say.

“University teachers do not fall from heaven but are born in the very society we live in,” said Selina Ahmed, who teaches sociology at Khulna University.

University teachers falling to the bottom of the pit, she said, represent a society rotten to its core with its educational institutions destroyed due to extreme politicization.

Material development and technological advancement have triggered the detachment and derailment of individuals from traditional values-based social systems, she added.

It is shameful that even top universities are not educating students on sexual harassment, said Syed Md. Saikh Imtiaz, who teaches women and gender studies at Dhaka University.

Development has helped women come out of homes, but they remain vulnerable and exposed to crimes in a society where gender and sex education is completely absent, he said.

More women are vocal against sexual abuse today, but women are still largely unsafe everywhere from schools, madrassas, corporate and government offices to the garment sector, he lamented.

“Institutions are to be blamed for leaving women in this deplorable condition,” he said, “Our institutions have failed us.”

Help UCA News to be independent
Dear reader,
Trafficking is one of the largest criminal industries in the world, only outdone by drugs and arms trafficking, and is the fastest-growing crime today.
Victims come from every continent and are trafficked within and to every continent. Asia is notorious as a hotbed of trafficking.
In this series, UCA News introduces our readers to this problem, its victims, and the efforts of those who shine the light of the Gospel on what the Vatican calls “these varied and brutal denials of human dignity.”
Help us with your donations to bring such stories of faith that make a difference in the Church and society.
A small contribution of US$5 will support us continue our mission…
William J. Grimm
Publisher
UCA News
Asian Bishops
Latest News
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia