Martha Farrell Memorial Fellowship: Resourcing research to build safe campuses


Campus sexual violence and harassment is endemic, and has a huge role to play in ultimately creating the workforce gender gap. Research shows that 20% of women at one time during their academic career experience sexual assault, and it is one of the chief causes for high drop-out rates among women.

With this in mind, the Martha Farrell Memorial Fellowship was instituted in 2016 by the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) in honour of Dr. Martha Farrell, to continue her life’s work in engendering workplaces and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). The programme draws on the Foundation’s expertise to offer training and support to two staff members from ACU member universities in East Africa and Asia to enable them in leading an effective anti-sexual harassment initiative at their home university.

In its maiden year, the Fellowship was awarded to Mojibur Rahman, a professor and researcher involved in education and social science research at the University of Dhaka (DU), Bangladesh. Having been in academia for over 16 years, the incidence and impunity around sexual harassment had preoccupied Rahman for a long time. When he got accepted into the fellowship programme, it merely strengthened his pursuit of practical solutions.

Mojibur Rahman

Martha Farrell Memorial Fellow, 2016

“Sexual harassment at the workplace and academic institution has become the central concern across Higher 
Education Institutions (HEIs) in Bangladesh of late. Having witnessed and understood the severity of this problem, 
I felt it was necessary to design and enact a zero tolerance policy in order to effectively combat it.”

-Mojibur Rahman

As a part of the programme, Rahman received all the adequate orientation and mentorship required to developed a draft Policy against sexual harassment for his institute. “Before the Fellowship, I found the notion of policy development or awareness-building quite challenging,” Rahman wrote in a 2017 bulletin for The ACU, reflecting on how the Fellowship helped broaden his understanding of the conditions and factors which enable sexual harassment at the workplace. “I learnt a lot from the training programme as well as from the education professionals and gender experts I met along the way.”

With the commencement of the Fellowship, Rahman underwent a series of orientation programmes in India – first, a seven-day training on participatory research (PR) at PRIA, New Delhi, along with a three-phase online training on the issue of Sexual Harassment at Workplace by Martha Farrell Foundation. Following discussions on how to address the issue effectively and efficiently with the experts here, Rahman developed an action plan and ideated the implementation of an effective sexual harassment policy at the university-level.

Using the PR methodology, he conducted rigorous interviews with (current and former) scholars and faculty members of IER, women’s rights activists, legal experts, representatives from University Grants Commission (UGC, Bangladesh) and various student bodies, as well as different academic and administrative members of DU to collect necessary data, which formed the basis of the draft policy. He then tried to imagine a comprehensive legal framework that would work across HEIs in Bangladesh, asking national and international experts to weigh in. Dialogues with UNICEF officers, Supreme Court lawyers, psychologists, student unions and teacher’s forums were facilitated with help from The ACU.

Validated by stakeholders and approved by his Institute, the policy soon came to be shared with other faculties, departments, and institutes of DU through advocacy and awareness campaigns, and even with other universities across the country with the help of UGC, Bangladesh. Rahman also oversaw the orientation of faculty and non-academic staff members at his institute. Looking back, the policy architect reflects, “The Fellowship experience motivated me thoroughly, enough to conduct my PhD research on this issue.”

In successive years of the Fellowship, we have support researchers from Sri Lanka and Tanzania. Currently, in its fourth year, the Martha Farrell Memorial Fellowship is once again open for two scholars from Commonwealth nations with a demonstrable interest in making their campuses safe. All interested and eligible candidates are encouraged to apply here.

I was forced to ignore sexual harassment in my workplace, because I needed to continue working and earning

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailI am a domestic worker in Gautampuri, Delhi. I live in an informal slum settlement with my family and work in 3 households. I started domestic work at a young age and have been working for about 20 years. I came into this profession in search of employment opportunities, to be able to afford my children’s education and give them a good life.

I worked in a house for many years. My employers and their son used to leave for work in the morning. The man, however, was a doctor and he used to come back to the house whenever he found time. Whenever he came back home early, I would find him staring at me, when I cleaned the house and cooked food in the kitchen. Sometimes, he would come and stand in front of me, which would make me feel scared and uncomfortable.

Once I said to him that he could call out to me if he needed something from me, and didn’t need to come all the way to ask me for things. But he continued to do it, and made me feel very uncomfortable.

I considered telling my husband about my experience, but I was afraid he wouldn’t believe me. So, I just ignored these incidents to be able to continue working and earning.

One day, when I was mopping, I saw that my employer was standing behind me, with his genitals out, masturbating. Instinctively, I ran away from there.

A few days later, I mustered the courage to complain to my employer’s wife, but she dismissed my complaint, and refused to believe that her husband would do such a thing. I was forced to quit. I never told my husband what had happened, because I was afraid he would stop me from working.

My sister soon took up a job in the same home, and faced sexual harassment in the hands of the same employer. It was only when she corroborated my story that my family began believing me. But I was never able to seek justice for my experience.

Sunita is among millions of domestic workers who are forced to keep silent about their experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace. Migrant status, desperation to earn and lack of strong legal mechanisms to prevent and redress such instances in their workplace make it harder for them to open up about their experiences. With #MainBhi, Sunita has joined hands with the Martha Farrell Foundation, supported by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, to strengthen institutional mechanisms and response to women domestic workers’ experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace. Find out more about the project here.