This post is the fourth in a series of eight stories by young Bangladeshis that illustrates the barriers to young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in the youth-led CSO report for Bangladesh’s Universal Periodic Review. These stories were collected by ARROW and Dance4Life. Photo is used for representation only. Read the first part here, second part here, and the third part here.
My name is Fahim and I am a 9th standard student in a high school in a town in Chittagong. I am here to tell you of an important moment of change in my life; specifically, I would like to share some thoughts regarding sexual harassment that I used to prescribe to.
You see, sexual harassment was nothing more than a game to me. When a boy the same age as I, Shahed, wolf-whistled and catcalled girls in our school, I would do the same, and even joined him. I thought to myself, “Why wouldn’t I do it too? What wrong could happen if I whistle or sing a little?”. I kept at it for a while, having no idea of how insulting this behaviour was for girls.
One day an NGO called PSTC came to our school. They gave talks on helpful services and advices regarding certain issues of importance to us young people. One of the things they emphasized was the issue of sexual harassment, and the little things that men and boys do that they think are innocent but are actually representation of a larger systemic oppression against women and girls. My interest was piqued, and as the discussions went on, I became increasingly upset; I saw what I have been doing to girls – what I and many other boys thought was fun and games – for what it is; sexual harassment.
The effects of sexual harassment became immediately obvious to me as soon as I made the connection, and it struck very close to home, quite literally; my older sister had tried to commit suicide after she faced sexual harassment from our community. Luckily she survived, but that was quite the wake up call for me, as I would never have considered that girls commit suicide because of sexual harassment. I promised to myself then and there that I would never commit sexual harassment again.
While Bangladesh adopted a new comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) curriculum in 2015 that covers a range of issues including puberty and menstruation, the undertone of the content remains stigmatising; menstruation, for example, has connotations of purity. Crucially, discussions around sexual harassment, for instance, do not address the root cause and instead promote the ideas that girls need to act and dress in ways that does not attract unwanted attention from men and boys.
Recommendations for Bangladesh’s 3rd UPR
Home science and physical education content by the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) should be rights-based rather than perpetuating gender stereotypes and stigmatisation. Furthermore, skills-building needs to be commenced that helps understanding of young girls’ and boys’ biological changes and making informed decisions and choices. The NCTB should take measures to ensure content on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), support service, sexual harassment, gender based violence (GBV), cyber-crime, child marriage, critical reasoning, and negotiation skill are included in the curricula.
After the discussions by PSTC at school, Fahim communicated with Shahed, informing him that his behaviour has very real and very deadly consequences. Fahim related what he learned from the NGO by telling Shahed that he has a younger sister, and if anybody does to her what he and Shahid did to the girls in his school, he would not have took it lightly. Both Fahim and Shahed has since stopped wolf-whistling and catcalling girls.
ARROW collaborated with the Right Here Right Now Bangladesh Platform (RHRN-BD) and the Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI) to submit a youth-led CSO report in October 2017 for Bangladesh’s 3rd UPR. The report focused on the barriers to young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Bangladesh. For the first time in the country’s UPR process, a CSO report has been developed through engagement of young Bangladeshis through a collective process. Read the report here!