Thimphu dzongkhag court convicted a director of Bhutan Power Corporation Ltd of sexual harassment this week and sent him to prison for eight months and ordered to pay a compensation of Nu 45,000. The judgment should send a strong message to those who consider their subordinates or colleagues as easy targets.

This is not the first time. And going by the way things are, it might not be the last.

Most Bhutanese men and women today grew up witnessing some sort of sexual harassment that the victims shrugged off casually. It was a common sight to see men and women wrestle playfully at work in the fields or during celebrations. Or throw comments loaded with sexual connotations. Today, it is a different time. 

We have to be aware that people are now sensitive about their private space and self-esteem, image, and there are laws protecting individual rights and freedoms.

Unfortunately, quite often, we hear of incidences of sexual harassment at workplaces. In most cases, it is brushed off as trivial and a harmless flirtation, and if not intentionally done, it is not sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is a serious issue and we must treat it so, irrespective of gender. Since it is a criminal offence, failure to report to law enforcement agencies is also a criminal offence under the Penal Code of Bhutan.

The current penalties, both administrative and criminal, are mostly seen as inadequate and there are not enough mechanisms to adequately compensate victims and take care of them including counselling services.

UN Women reported that in 2020, globally, an estimated 736 million women reported some form of sexual violence of which few than 40 percent of victims sought help and less than 10 percent sought the help of police. These are mostly in the least developed countries such as Bhutan.

As we work towards becoming a high-end destination for our visitors, fixing such pertinent issues becomes very equally important. Offices must have proper checks and balances in place, including robust complaint and redressal systems. 

Even as we discuss the judgment, there are more cases of sexual harassment and abuse emerging. The recent incidences have made us all think. Such abuses are an ongoing behaviour in our compassionate Buddhist society. The imagery of a child abuser in chains is unnerving; that of one in formal clothes, looking like any of us, is even more chilling.

Today it is more important to reflect on the trends that we see than to react to individual incidents. And we do have much to think about.