By Jessie Mawson
NARSINGDI, Bangladesh, 21 July 2010 – Hundreds of people, many of them adolescents, rallied in the streets of Narsingdi district recently to call for an end to ‘Eve teasing’ – a term used to describe the public bullying of girls and women by boys and men.
|VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Priyanka Pruthi reports on a campaign to end public sexual harassment known as 'Eve teasing' in Bangladesh.|
‘Eve teasing’ is become an often brutal form of sexual harassment that can result in permanent physical and psychological damage and profoundly alter the course of a girl’s life. The harassment manifests itself in different ways, ranging from verbal abuse and sexual innuendo to abduction, acid-throwing and rape.
In response, some parents choose to keep their daughters at home rather than send them to school, or they marry girls off at an early age in an attempt to protect their honour and safety.
Blame and stigma
Bound to domestic servitude and with little mobility, these adolescent girls find themselves deprived of both educational opportunities and social outlets. They are also vulnerable to the health risks associated with early marriage and pregnancy.
|© UNICEF Bangladesh/2010/Mawa|
|Members of UNICEF-supported youth clubs rally in Narshingdi district, Bangladesh, to raise awareness about public sexual harassment known as 'Eve teasing'.|
Too often, the victims of sexual harassment receive little support from parents and community leaders; instead, they are blamed and stigmatized.
In fact, the effects of harassment have driven some young girls and women in Bangladesh to commit suicide.
A sense of urgency
To help prevent such tragic consequences, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs – with support from UNICEF, the Centre for Mass Education in Science and the non-governmental development organization BRAC – gathered parents, community members and adolescents in Narsingdi for a motivational workshop aimed at protecting adolescent girls.
|© UNICEF Bangladesh/2010/Mawa|
|At a rally against public sexual harassment in Narsingdi district, Bangladesh, a group of female sewing trainees carry placards that read, 'Say No to Eve Teasing: Ensure women's free movement!'|
There was a sense of urgency amongst the participants, with some of the most impassioned responses coming from the adolescents themselves.
“Blaming the victim will not solve the problem,” said Dr. Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, State Minister of Women and Children Affairs and the chief guest at the workshop. “We need to encourage girls to speak out so that we can create community awareness and work together to prevent Eve teasing.”
UNICEF and its partners are working to create such awareness by establishing and supporting local adolescent groups called 'Kishori Clubs’.
The clubs aim to provide a safe environment where girls and boys can come together and socialize in positive ways. Club members participate in a variety of activities and information sessions and are empowered to become agents of change.
There are now close to 3,000 Kishori Clubs operating in nearly 30 districts across Bangladesh, thanks to funding from the European Union.
Young people take action
At the workshop in Narsingdi, adolescents from a local Kishori group presented a play that explored the negative impact of Eve teasing and suggested ways to prevent it. The powerful performance reflected the strong opinions of the young people involved.
''I have a friend. A boy used to tease her,” explained performer and Kishori Club member Marzahan, 13. “But after we staged this play at our school, the boy began to understand. Our teachers also taught him about the damage that Eve teasing can cause. Now he is friendly to everybody and he doesn’t tease any girls anymore.''
Shohagh, 13, another club member, is among the boys who believe the time has come to take action on Eve teasing. “Girls need to have access to education and be able to live healthy lives,” he said. “They should be able to enjoy their rights.”