08 February, 2011

Public sexual harassment, known as “eve teasing,” has become one of the most highlighted issues in Bangladesh in recent years. Assaults, abductions, acid burnings and public shame have often led to the death or suicide of attacked women.

The scope of this social crime has reached record levels, prompting an outcry from communities. Unfortunately, despite increased social pressure to stop teasers and efforts by law enforcement agencies, many cases of teasing go unreported due to lack of public resources. In many parts of Bangladesh, sexual harassment is an embarrassment to the victim and taboo to discuss, even among friends and family, let alone with authorities. As a result of this social isolation, many incidents end in unnecessary tragedy.

In 2010, The Hunger Project (THP)-Bangladesh, led by Country Director Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, identified this gap in social support and began grassroots efforts to work with eve teasing victims. More than 150,000 volunteers began work across Bangladesh to foster open conversations about the consequences of sexual harassment and to encourage communities to put a stop to teasing. During their work, the volunteers noticed an increase in demand for counselling over the phone. Women from remote regions around Bangladesh began to reach out and found support at the other end of the line.

Seeing an opportunity to increase the impact of counselling, THP-Bangladesh partnered with the country’s largest independent call centre company, Windmill Infotech Limited, to set up an official eve teasing helpline. Women seeking support from any part of the country now have a safe outlet to express their struggle, without fear of social judgment. The helpline can support once-silenced women and, when necessary, will immediately contact the appropriate authorities on behalf of the victim. The social support helpline is the first of its kind in Bangladesh.

In December 2010, trained professionals at Windmill Infotech’s call centres began taking eve teasing helpline calls with the assistance of Hunger Project partners. Campaigns on behalf of the helpline have promoted a single, easy to remember phone number throughout the media. The campaigns encourage parents, friends and victims themselves to seek immediate help following incidences of eve teasing.