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High time to develop a mechanism within TU to address cases of sexual harassment

Pabitra Guragain, KATHMANDU: The Kathmandu Post on Feb 24, 2019 published an ‘investigative’ news report under the headline of “Tribhuvan University lecturer sexually harassed female students for years”.
Before this, the English national daily had published an article headlined “Fed up by harassment, Nepali women are going online to share their # Me Too stories” (The Kathmandu Post, Oct 11, 2018) and another report entitled “We were sexually harassed by a Tribhuvan University professor”( The Record, Dec 2, 2018) was published.
There are also news reports about stories of sexual harassments that female students faced at the hands of male teachers at schools and the University.
The first news came, when Nepali women had started speaking up against their unpleasant experiences on social media, as a shock to the circle of academia and of students as it has mentioned the name of 65-year-old noted teacher as the alleged perpetrator in the sexual harassments against female students while guiding during their thesis works.
The news created a sort of discourse on social media, bringing mixed reactions: some are flatly rejecting the report claiming that it was totally intended at naming and shaming the reputed teacher while some gave words in confidentiality with the voices of such students. The teacher in his response to the news said, “It is based on false, baseless and manufactured allegations.”
The Tribhuvan University, Gender Studies Programme says it was and is much concerned about such news as its aim is to build a just society with guarantee of social justice and protection of all sorts of rights of all including women; and gender and sexual minorities. It came to realize that there is no mechanism at the University and its constituent colleges to register and investigate complaints about sexual abuses and take action against culprit(s).
In the same context, it recently organised a discussion programme in a bid to prod up the TU to develop a mechanism to respond incidents of sexual harassment or accusation to anyone (professors, staffs or students) as its crystal clear stand is that perpetrator (s) must be punished and none is falsely charged.
Giving her views at the programme, TU Professor Dr Mira Mishra said there was growing news of sexual harassment in media and that the “Tribhuvan University is not an exception.”
According to her, debates are flaring up with the news and key debates include: allegations are true; allegations are false; no one should be falsely charged; no one should have space to escape; no man is safe, at any time, one would be falsely charged.
The larger debates are women are victims of sexual harassment: # Me too provided women with courage to speak out; men are primarily the perpetrators because they are more powerful economically and politically than women; perpetrators could be anyone– boss, friend, teacher, administrator, etc; women should speak out candidly and loudly; women should be collective to fight against women being sexually harassed and men should come out to support women.
But her personal stand is that “for women, it is not easy to come out with such stories as it is not cost-free. They would be blamed as chhada (characterless), and their sexuality is questioned and becomes a subject of discussions for many if a woman has a story to tell and if she is blaming someone, she would think hundred times before becoming visible.”
However, there remains men’s concern as well as there are voices that “not only women, men are also sexually harassed and who would speak up for us. Everyone is taking about women as if men don’t have problem. Men could be falsely charged more than women because of their gender”, she apprised the gathering asserting that the TU, therefore, should take the issue seriously and address the problem primarily because of three reasons:
First, no one should be harassed sexually-women, men and third sex/gender- because they are relatively powerless than the perpetrators. Second, if someone comes out with the story, it should not be taken frivolously. And the third, the possibility of false allegation can’t be overlooked.
She insisted that so, it with a prompt response to the need of the hour, should build a trustworthy structure to deal with the problem by clearly defining what constitutes sexual harassment.
In view of Gender Studies Programme coordinator Dr Bindu Pokhrel, sexual harassments affect the victim’s mind, body, psychology and career as well and the TU in the aftermath of frequent media reports about cases of sexual harassments and abuse in educational institutions is not expected to make any delay to ensure a mechanism to investigate the cases and allegations of sexual harassments with in it and its subordinate bodies and take action against perpetrator (s) so that no victim is denied of justice and none is falsely charged. But, sides by sides, it is also necessary to build an encouraging and safe atmosphere for ‘survivors’ to speak about their experiences and more necessary is to take preventive measures .
What the opinion survey shows
During the progrmme, Sunita Raut, member, Faculty of Central Department of Sociology) presented her “Opinion Survey on Sexual Harassment: A Study on Students of Tribhuvan University,” which shows that highest percentage(70%) of students have no idea of sexual harassment. Which, according to her, indicates two line of interpretation. First, they do not have clear understanding of what is sexual harassment and what is not. Second, 30% students experienced sexual harassment in campuses indicates a significant degree of sexual harassment is in higher educational institutions.

What is sexual harassment
As Raut says ; sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Harassment can occur in many different social setting such as; workplace, home, public transportation, school, college etc. There are so many behaviors that are considered sexual harassment but can be categories in three types:
Unwanted sexual statements: Sexual or “dirty” jokes, comments on physical attributes, spreading rumors about or rating others as to sexual activity or performance, talking about one’s sexual activity in front of others and displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures and written materials. Unwanted sexual statement can be made in person, in writing, electronically.
Unwanted personal attention: Letters, telephone calls, visits, pressure for sexual favor, pressure for unnecessary personal interaction and pressure for dates, where a sexual/romantic intent appears evident but remains unwanted.
Unwanted physical and sexual advances: Touching, hugging, kissing, fondling, sexual assault, intercourse or other sexual activity.
Her conclusion is that because fear of revenge and social stigma, students could not speak against harassment. Even highly educated girls also felt insecurity to speak against culprits.
During the survey based in three colleges of the Kathmandu Valley, students suggested the launch of awareness raising program and regulations of expel from institution, placing of a complain box and surveillance camera inside the school/ campus premises; suspension, immediate physical/ or monetary charge and public exposition as the major strategies to prevent the occurrence of sexual harassment in academic institutes.

What people in authority pledge
TU Rector Dr Sudha Tripathi who was present at the progamme expressed her full solidarity to the demand of establishing the mechanism and promised to take full initiations towards that end. She said she felt it was her responsibility as well to lend hands in efforts for creating a safe academic atmosphere for all.
Dr Shibalal Bhusal, Dean of TU Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, taking the reference of # Me Too movement founded by Tarana Burke said the very movement that first appeared in western countries then in India and lately entered Nepal encouraged women to speak out publicly about their past unwanted experiences. He said he had taken the matter very seriously, giving words to make all possible efforts as the TU member for building a safe environment at the TU.
As Burke said that the movement is not about “naming and shaming,” but about changing culture in ways that end sexual violence, support survivors, and eliminate toxic office spaces through open dialogue, the TU Gender Studies programme founded with the vision of not only producing academic graduates but also preparing the agents for positive changes and gender just in the society sees the high need of guaranteeing a formal structure at the University level to promptly come up with a mechanism, concludes Dr Pokhrel. RSS

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