Harassment of women in public transport is widely reported with 92 percent of women interviewed for a research conducted by Social Research and Development Organization (SRDO) reporting that they would prefer to travel in women-only transport. A social researcher who led the research said the majority of the women who commute using public transport have complained of different forms of harassment, including verbal, physical and sexual harassment.
The survey of 75 women commuters, aged 19 and 45, also disclosed that inappropriate touching, making sexual comments and staring by male passengers is overwhelmingly rife. The respondents, however, made it clear that the incidents of harassment are far lesser in rickshaws and taxis. Farhana Hussain, a women rights activist, said that we should not see the issue of harassment of women in public transport in isolation as it is an open fact that harassment and violence against women is a feature of our male-dominated structure where society tends to blame victims instead of helping them. She said successive governments have taken very positive steps but a clear lack of implementation mechanisms has made it difficult to provide relief.
A large majority of respondents, 59 percent, informed that insufficient space for women passengers in buses and wagons is a major problem for them. A nineteen-year girl student on condition of anonymity told the survey team that she and her friend due to repeated incidents of harassment at the bus, they have started commuting in rickshaw even though it is quite expensive. It is interesting to note that a large percentage of respondents, 84 percent, showed their willingness to stay at the bus stops even for more than 45 minutes, if they have a chance to travel in women-only bus or wagon.
It is very unfortunate that due to the failure of authorities that maintain law and order, people have started ignoring such incidents as they don’t want to get involved. He observed that even the police don’t take roadside harassment of women seriously. Unfortunately, 76 percent of the respondents opined that the victims of harassment should remain silent; however, 24 percent observed that women should immediately report the case.
One of the respondents suggested setting up a helpline to specifically deal with the cases of harassment in public transport. Rubina Ihsan, a lawyer by profession, said in majority of harassment cases women or girls were too afraid to respond. If the victim opts to keep silent the perpetrator takes further advantages. She suggested that the government should take strict measures to tackle the issue of harassment of women in public transport.
ABDUL QADRI BULLO