“Social Action Committee (SAC) Convenes Press Conference to Address Rising Sexual Harassment in Universities: Focus on Jagannath University”

On March 21, 2024, a press conference was held at the Jahur Hossain Chowdhury auditorium of National Press Club in Topkhana road Dhaka, organized by the Social Action Committee (SAC). The conference aimed to protest against recent incidents of sexual harassment in various universities, including Jagannath University.

Dr. Fauzia Moslem, President of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP), moderated the press conference where a written statement was presented by Mariam Nessa, founder of ActionAid. Shirin Akhtar, a women’s rights activist and former member of parliament, Shahana Sumi, director of Bangladesh Women’s Progress Association, and Advocate Salma Ali, President of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association spoke in the conference.

The statement highlights the expansion of a culture of hatred and discrimination against women, particularly in higher education institutions. It expresses concern over incidents of sexual harassment, assault, and lawlessness, which often go unreported due to a prevailing culture of silence. The lack of security and injustice has led to female students dropping out of higher education, while the mental pressure and helplessness have pushed some towards self-harm. Despite the existence of complaint committees against sexual harassment in most educational institutions, they are not active everywhere, and many teachers and students are unaware of their directives. The statement calls on university authorities, committees against sexual harassment, teachers, students, the media, and human rights activists to take active initiatives to combat this culture of hatred and violence against women.

Shirin Akhtar, a prominent female entrepreneur and former member of parliament, believes that the government and relevant authorities should take stronger action to prevent sexual harassment in educational institutions. She suggests raising awareness among parents and students and ensuring punishment for the perpetrators, as recommended by the High Court.

Shahnaz Sumi, director of Bangladesh Women’s Progress Association, warns that the safety of educational institutions is being compromised by certain individuals. She stresses the importance of ethical conduct in teacher recruitment and evaluation. Sumi also calls for a supportive environment for victims of sexual harassment, including counseling services.

Advocate Salma Ali, President of the National Women Lawyers’ Association of Bangladesh, urges for stricter monitoring of harassment cases in educational institutions to prevent them, following guidelines from the High Court. She emphasizes the need to strengthen the responsibilities of sexual harassment committees, including regular rotation of committee members and prompt investigation of incidents. She also calls for a culture of impartiality and visible justice for complainants.

Dr. Fauzia Moslem, in response to journalists, highlighted that sexual violence against women is a violation of their dignity and a manifestation of gender inequality. She stressed that all forms of violence, including sexual violence, should be treated as serious crimes. Dr. Moslem called for a fair legal system to address these crimes, the eradication of impunity, consistent monitoring of complaint committees, and the responsibility of the relevant ministry to protect women’s constitutional rights and promote political and cultural transformation.

Representatives from different organizations, including the Social Action Committee (SAC), National Women’s Alliance, and Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, along with editors, journalists, and media personnel from print and electronic media, attended a press conference.

Jana Goswami, the Advocacy and Lobby Director of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad conducted the event.

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