We are concerned about a new transport survey showing that 63% of women and girls using public transport in Dhaka face various forms of harassment, including sexual harassment. While 47% of respondents complained of sexual harassment, 61% said they were deliberately touched by bus staff while getting on and off the bus. About 25 percent said they had experienced at least 3 such touches in the past six months. Equally worrisome is that a large proportion of those who faced sexual or other harassment on public transport later developed mental health problems.
These findings suggest that little has changed when it comes to the safety of women and girls on public transport, even though the issue has long been debated. The seriousness of the situation can be understood from the fact that some women were raped and killed on the bus. Unfortunately, these incidents did not lead to significant intervention by the authorities. This survey follows several other surveys in the past that have revealed a toxic, male-dominated environment in public transport, with women barely having a voice after being harassed or bullied. Despite the practice of reserving seats for women, this is not enough because there are too few seats for the increasing number of women and girls who need buses, these seats are occupied by male commuters.
Also, keeping just a few seats won’t improve the situation unless men’s patriarchal attitudes are changed. While male passengers, especially male assistants, need to raise awareness to change their mindset, existing laws against gender-based harassment/violence also need to be regularly enforced to hold perpetrators accountable. Women also need the necessary support to lodge complaints against harassers. To ensure this, drivers and assistants and even police officers must be properly trained on gender issues.
Experts have proposed specific interventions such as increasing the number of women-only buses, installing CCTV cameras and vehicle tracking systems in all passenger cars, putting name tags on each car with the names of drivers and assistants, conduct mobile court, etc. Now is the time for authorities to heed these recommendations, which we hope will help ensure a safe environment for female commuters.