Sexual harassment is not a part of our culture: NCWC Chair Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji who is the Chairperson of National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) said that they are very concerned about sexual harassment which is happening not only in offices but in schools and everywhere else.

He said, “Our people have a perception saying sexually harassing a woman is a part of our culture, which is not true. We have to demystify the myth that it is not okay to tease women or pass any sort of comments on women.”

“This is something serious and in the past they tried to institute very stringent laws and had lots of discussion on this. However, it does not work even when they have stringent laws as people lack awareness and this is an area where they should be focusing more on,” Lyonpo added.

All the efforts made in schools on bad touch and good touch is to empower women and girls to understand sexual harassment and on how and where to report, Lyonpo said, adding that those are handled in a very confidential manner.

“Woman and Child Protection (WCPU) under RBP are playing their role while we have appointed focal persons in all the gewogs so that we can address the complaints from the communities on this matter at the earliest. And this is also to create awareness on consent,” he said.

Though it is happening everywhere, Lyonpo said that the reported cases are very minimal as women are not empowered and they are afraid of certain consequences if they happen to report it.

“To encourage them, concerned agencies should maintain their confidentiality and address these types of cases in a very sensitive manner. We also have to empower women ensuring full support to the victims,” Lyonpo added.

He further said that those women who have come forward are the first step. Things will take time and with reports of more number of cases men will then realize the risk of harassing anyone.

NCWC will provide all the help and they encourage people to come forward and report sexual harassment. Men should change their mind set he said.

An official from RENEW said that both males and females are victims of sexual harassment which is part of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and to tackle it they have to understand the power relation between men and women.

She said, “Living in a patriarchal society where men take most of the leadership posts, women are victim to GBV including sexual harassment in 90 percent of the cases. Over the years we have not received many cases of sexual harassment as it is a very tricky kind of violence by nature.”

The topic itself is very broad that it is very difficult to prove that sexual harassment has taken place irrespective of where it is. The knowledge on this matter is very less among the people and they have no idea on who to approach.

Moreover, the culture of accepting such acts adds to it where one is not able to differentiate weather whatever said and done is common practice or is a sexual offence. “Most think it is a common practice,” she added.

She said, “It is high time now that we create awareness on how to differentiate between common practice and sexual offence. There is no system in place to address such issues and on how to protect the victims.”

She pointed out that in offices junior female staff are targeted the most and male bosses seem to take advantage of the situation whereby they threaten the victims to terminate them if they happen to report the matter to anyone. This is when they fail to report it until it gets worse and this is reason why sexual harassment goes unreported.

She further said that the system itself is too weak to protect the victims. Though there are service rules and regulations in offices they fail while implementing it and that way employees lose trust on the system, she said.

“Just having rules and regulation will not work. The implementation part should be strong enough, I think it is a must that every private office should have certain service rules and regulations which their employees can trust,” she added.

An official from RBP said that though they witness sexual harassment happening everywhere the report of this offence is very minimal. Thimphu police received only two cases of sexual harassment in 2020 and two cases in 2021.

Official said, “The report is very minimal may be because of its acceptance culturally and at some point of time as a part of joke within colleagues. The other reason could be lack of evidences and the risk of getting threats from the accused later.”

He said proving sexual harassment is challenging though gathering circumstantial evidence is one way to prove it. 

“If a person has harassed one individual than it is likely that the person must have harassed many others and that kind of information can be evidence. We will facilitate our service if they come to us and we shall ensure their safety,” the RBP official added.

An official from Office of Attorney General (OAG) said they have had to drop some sexual offence related cases (molestation mostly) due to lack of evidence and in some cases they return the case to police for additional evidences, he said.

As per section 205 of PCB 2004, a defendant shall be guilty of offence of sexual harassment, if the defendant makes unwelcome physical, verbal or non verbal abuse of sexual nature.

As per section 206 of Penal Code of Bhutan (PCB) 2004, the offence of sexual harassment shall be a petty misdemeanor.

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