Sexual harassment is a serious issue and it must be treated as so. The recent case in CLCS where a large number of students came forward with complaints and the compulsory retirement of nine lecturers and one support staff shows the extent of the problem.
The CLCS case may have come to the public domain, but there could be similar cases and issues under the surface of other agencies in Bhutan.
It is a sad reality that sexual harassment is still treated as a light issue in many workplaces, be it in the government or private companies.
There also seems to be a high tolerance for sexual harassment in the work place- dominated by a macho male culture.
However, it is also true that there is growing awareness on the issue and many young people are less tolerant of it, than in the past. This is good, and people must be encouraged to not only report cases but also support other victims.
Bhutan has a small population of around 700,000 and we need all hands on deck if the country is to move forward. For that to happen, we have to make sure that our workplaces are safe for women and there is no toxic environment that can discourage them.
Bhutanese offices and organizations, big or small, also need adopt a zero tolerance policy towards sexual harassment.
There needs to be clear rules and regulations in place, along with point people or committees to approach in case something does happen.
One key aspect is at home and this is where parents must inculcate a sense of respect in young children for girls and women and teach them, early-on, not to look down on girls or women, for there is nothing more dangerous than a patriarchal society in encouraging sexual harassment and even sexual crimes.
Bhutan’s law enforcement institution, which is the RBP, must also be sensitized to be able to handle and investigate such cases which may not necessarily be like the normal sexual assault crime cases they deal with.
The judiciary should also be sensitized to deal with and dispose these cases in a manner that encourages victims to come forward too.
“Women who accuse men, particularly powerful men, of harassment are often confronted with the reality of the men’s sense that they are more important than women, as a group.”