THE inclusion of women into formal and informal economy has been encouraged, their safety in public transport has not been ensured. A BRAC Study shows that about 94 per cent of women using public transports have experienced sexual harassment. In 2018, a university student injured herself when she jumped off a running bus to escape sexual harassment. Sexual harassment has often turned fatally violent, especially on long-route buses. On August 25, 2017, a law student was killed after being raped by the bus driver and his assistants inside a moving bus from Bogura to Mymensingh. The Bangladesh Passengers’ Welfare Association earlier expressed deep concern about frequent incidents of sexual assaults on women in public transports. The government’s approach to the crisis is dated and superficial. In 2008, the government set out that all city service buses would have seats designated for women, children and people with physical disabilities. In 2018, the city authorities introduced a limited number of buses only for women. The services ensured an increased access but failed to address the rampancy of sexual harassment in public transports.
Public transports are generally not women-friendly. The limited number of seats reserved for women in public transports are situated on or around the engine which is uncomfortable. Physicians on a number of occasions expressed concern about the unhealthy and risky condition of seats reserved for women. Experts say that women could develop blood pressure and headache from prolonged and routine exposure to heat from engines. Most public transport workers refuse to take women passengers in rush hours. In this situation, the women who can afford opt for more expensive mode of transport and others are left in the lurch. The women-only services available in some cities are inadequate against the demand. Passenger rights activists blame the insincerity and indifference of the authorities for the rising insecurity of women in public transports. Women’s organisations have also said that lack of an effective mechanism to address sexual harassment is a primary cause of women’s insecurity in public transport as perpetrators rarely face any legal action. Bangladesh Road Transport Authority officials acknowledged that mobile courts working to check the traffic rule violations are under-resourced to check harassment.
Sexual harassment is a punishable offence. The authorities concerned must, therefore, review the monitoring and grievance mechanism to ensure that sexual harassment in public transports is prevented by all means. A proposal of women’s organisations for designated cells is worth considering as it would at least stop sexual harassment cases from going unreported. The government must also make transport owners more aware of their indirect responsibility when a crime is committed by their staff.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Editorial