Published On: Thu, Jan 11th, 2018

Harassment of another kind

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 Editorial

It is very unfortunate to note that almost all women who use public transport face harassment. Though this is not really a surprise for any female who has boarded a bus, wagon, or other form of transport, yet the figure of 90 percent, written out in the Women’s Safety Audit in Public Transport conducted and published by the Aurat Foundation drives home the scale of the problem.

The study finds that all women using Lahore Transport Company buses and almost as many using the Metro bus service have been harassed while on board the vehicle, while 82 percent have faced harassment at bus stops. The harassment usually comes in the form of staring, molestation, whistling, obscene gestures, and inappropriate touching. Younger women, under 30, are most vulnerable to the abuse.

The study conducted in Lahore in partnership with the Women’s Development Department Punjab, UN Women and other organisations, is among the few that takes a serious look at the issue of transport for women and the impact this has on their freedom to move.

According to the 903 women commuters interviewed, they had serious safety concerns but 98 percent had never made complaints on existing help lines or mobile apps. About 95 percent were unaware of laws which made harassment a crime, while the social culture prevailing in a patriarchal setup also meant other women did not believe their complaints would be taken seriously. Others held the view that making the harassment they had faced known to their families would lead to a further restriction to their movement. The issue is no doubt a very grave one.

This audit is among the first to take a detailed look at it and connect sex disaggregated data to analyse and address the problems. The report also notes that inadequate lighting, missing benches and badly maintained facilities add to the difficulties of women passengers. In the past, studies have shown that a key reason for women not seeking employment, or not continuing their education, is lack of access to safe transport. In other words, the absence of this simple service is holding back women from progress and empowerment, keeping them effectively confined to homes or the few other safe places they may be able to access.

Tackling the problem should be a prime concern, and the interest of Punjab government departments is encouraging. We do hope that the report will lead to action that can make commuting safer for women. But the irony is that the government is busy elsewhere and not intending any remedial work for the cause of the public and the marginalized sections of the community.

 

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