"Using public transport is like going to war every day,” a woman in her thirties in Dhaka told us. She was participating in the consultations for a World Bank funded gender assessment led by Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC). The assessment examined key travel concerns for women in Bangladesh, particularly when using public transport. “We have to constantly be in fight or flight mode when taking public transport,” another participant in the consultation mentioned.
As cities like Dhaka are investing on sustainable modes of mobility, considering air quality, congestion, safety against traffic crashes and access to jobs and services, it is imperative that such travel is also free of sexual harassment and violence. Sexual harassment in public transport limits Bangladeshi women’s participation in the labor force and therefore directly undermines economic growth.
online survey that covered over 5,000 women across 24 districts revealed that compared to other public spaces such as streets, shopping malls and online platforms. While harassment is primarily caused by individual behavior and social norms, poorly designed infrastructure and vehicle makes things worse. The safety risks for women are disproportionately increased by gender-neutral infrastructure and vehicle design. Although Dhaka has 43-foot over-bridges in the North City Corporation and 31 in the South City Corporation, women, who participated in our assessment said they, tend to avoid these. These poorly-lit bridges are notorious for being places for harassment.A 2022
Our study indicated that negative experiences on public transport have significant and lasting impacts, with women and girls reporting it led them to drop out of school or stop going to work. Seventy-five percent of study participants reported they need companions in certain times and circumstances considered riskier for example when traveling after dark. Some women felt additional financial stress as they had to opt for more expensive modes of transport. Other women, especially those from poorer families, felt the added emotional burden of hiding instances of harassment from husbands in fear of not being allowed to work.
To address the challenge of riding public transport from sexual harassment, opportunities often lie in mainstreaming gender concerns at the core of development investment and cross-cutting transport projects through gender-equal planning and design. For instance, Bangladesh Road Safety Project brings both transport and health experts together and prioritizes the safety concerns of female road users. It’s multi-pronged and multi-stakeholder approach provides a unique opportunity to prevent sexual harassment and to ensure that support services in case of incidents are easily accessible.The World Bank’s
Besides this, the project also aims to bring behavioral changes, improve systems for the response, and build the infrastructure that will reduce risks and will monitor the results of this integrated approach. Tsimilar initiatives that demonstrated effective results from Latin America as well as approaches tested in Bangladesh such as BRAC’s light tough approach on nudging bystander actions. BRAC showed that installing bright posters with three simple and safe actions could make perpetrators think twice.by using different forms of media, and raise awareness on interrupting harassments to bystanders. Specifically on bystander intervention, the project aims to train bus employees on such techniques. These activities will draw from lessons learned from
In addition to the behavior change interventions, Shuttle is an app-based transport service provider for women. Another youth-led ICT-based initiative is BhaiThamen that provides support functions for women during insecure situations. BRAC’s initiative to train women as professional drivers to promote women-friendly commuting has also garnered positive responses. So far, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs have installed CCTV cameras in 100 buses as a deterrent. However, given the scale of the problem, more concerted efforts are needed.that promotes collecting gender-disaggregated data and ensuring women’s participation in infrastructure design. For example,