We decided to start with an online
interview. One hundred and twenty-one participants responded within a
couple of weeks, 70 percent of them
women. We were buoyed by the keen
reception. A closer look at the answers,
however, revealed the weakness of the
responses. Many questions were not
answered at all, particularly the ones
with the word sexual harassment in
them. Other answers led us to believe
sexual harassment was not a serious
problem, and that none of the participants had any direct or indirect experience with it.
Our team soon started having
doubts. Maybe sexual harassment
wasn’t a problem in urban areas after
all. During this time of confusion, I had
No doubt sexual harassment is a
widespread social problem. However,
in Bangladesh, it seems an even big-
ger problem is talking about it. Hear-
ing stories like this I couldn’t help but
ask myself, what can be done to help
the thousands of other young girls who
have been coerced into silence. It was
the starting point of a quest to build
Protibadi, a technology-based tool to
fight sexual harassment. The word
protibadi means protestor in Bengali.
This was going to be our way of raising
a voice against the vicious social prob-
lem of sexual assault, and we would do
it in a way that was culturally accept-
able in Bangladesh.
Back in early 2011, when we started
working on Protibadi, there was no
helpline or support network for dis-
tressed people. Anyone seeking help
had little to no resources to turn to.
While support systems like Hollaback!
had been developed in the West, they
were not used in Bangladesh. When
we started exploring the problem, it
became clear that Bangladeshi wom-
en preferred a closed-group solution.
A network among women only; a safe
place where they would not be ha-
rassed, judged, or humiliated.
We got off to a rocky start. As our
team set out to develop an understanding of sexual harassment in urban areas, we faced a major barrier: silence.
People simply did not want to talk
about a topic considered taboo in a
strongly conservative society.
The story of how a group of Bangladeshi volunteers used
technology to address the country’s sexual abuse problem.
By Nova Ahmed
Starting the fight
against sexual abuse