HRW calls for ‘meaningful’ steps to combat sexual violence in Bangladesh10 October 2020
Bangladesh should take meaningful action to combat sexual violence against women and to support the survivors, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Friday.
"Bangladeshi women have had enough of the government's abject failure to address repeated rapes and sexual assaults," said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW's South Asia director, adding, "The Bangladesh government needs to finally make good on its empty promises and heed activists' calls to take meaningful action to combat sexual violence and to support survivors."
The human rights watchdog made the call after a video of a group of men attacking, stripping, and sexually assaulting a woman in Noakhali went viral, erupting a countrywide protest.
Protesters called for the resignation of Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan over the government's failure to address an alarming rise in sexual violence against women and girls.Though the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission has sought to remove the video from the internet, it continues to circulate widely.
"My life is already ruined," the survivor told the media. "I am now worried about my children, especially my daughter."
Eight men have been arrested in the case. But protesters called for the government to finally take the country's sexual assault problem seriously.
According to Ain o Salish Kendra, a Bangladeshi human rights organisation, 907 women or girls were raped in just the first nine months of 2020. Over 200 of these cases were gang-rape. Since these numbers are based on media reports and most survivors do not report assault, they most likely capture only a small fraction of the true number of cases of sexual violence against women and girls in Bangladesh.
Following massive protests earlier this year in response to a case in Dhaka, a High Court ordered the law ministry in January to form a commission within 30 days to address the troubling rise of sexual violence in the country, with the aim of producing recommendations by June.
However, more than nine months after the order, it is unclear whether the commission is functioning, and it has not produced recommendations.
In the meantime, the government has yet to pass long-promised sexual harassment and witness protection laws. Survivors continue to face stigma, and do not have adequate access to psychosocial services when they seek help, HRW said.
The Bangladesh government should create the High Court-ordered commission on sexual violence and publicly report its recommendations; provide comprehensive sexuality education in schools, including on the meaning of consent; and provide training to law enforcement and court officials on working with victims of gender-based violence, according to the statement.
It should ensure that adequate and accessible resources for psychosocial support are available and accessible and should heed activists' calls to finally pass a sexual harassment bill, provide witness protection, and reform discriminatory legislation.
"The Bangladesh government needs to listen to women," Ganguly said. "The government should ensure that this woman, and all sexual assault survivors, are treated with dignity and have access to services, and that their right to a fair, timely, independent investigation and adequate legal remedy is respected."