By Nazneen Shifa
Of late there is some debate on the term “eve teasing”. Most of this debate revolves around the question of naming the very phenomena. Should we use the term “eve teasing” or should we call it sexual harassment? Although I keenly follow the debate and discussion for and against this term in order to get a societal perspective in these matters, I must say that I certainly wish to use the term sexual harassment (in Bengali either Jounohoirani or Jouno nipiron) as “eve teasing” does not explain what actually happens generally against women in South Asia.
All this reminds me of one incident when I was working with a women’s rights organization. On the eve of Twenty first February (International Mother’s Language Day) and International Women’s Day 2008 we were involved in a campaign called ‘Stop using abusive language and protect and protest eve teasing towards women in public places’. I was kind of unsure and critical with the use of the term ‘eve teasing’. Instead, I was in favor of the phrase ‘rastha ghate narir upor jouno hoirani’ (sexual harassment towards women in public spaces). But I failed. It was not accepted although a long discussion took place as to whether we should go for such an “unpolished” language for “our” campaign. In the end we couldn’t use the term jouno hoirani or sexual harassment.
I found it quite paradoxical as we were working for some cause that usually affects women, girls and Hijras (Also to be noted that sexual harassment towards the Hijras is often beyond the hetero-normative shushil discourses/ NGO discourses of “gender” rights). Simply, I wanted to argue that the term “eve teasing” did not reflect the brutality of the event and “sexual harassment” better captured the situation. Yet, we found people debating on this.
Almost a decade ago I have had similar experiences when as a student we were organizing for ‘Jouno nipiron protirodh moncho’ (A platform against the sexual harassment towards women). When I used to mention the name of the platform in various social gatherings, the people inadvertently would be shaken . I still remember one of my very close neighbor who made a comment that ‘why you Jahangirnagar students always do work on such kind of issues’ as she knew that I was involved with the anti sexual harassment movement in JU campus in 1998.
(Reworked from an earlier fb note)
Artwork and photograph: Mahajabin Khan