From verbal abuse to being followed, from unwanted sexual comments to physical assault, the stories are strikingly similar, no matter what the situation. Whilst some governments around the world are beginning to take a tougher stand against issues such as domestic violence, sexual harassment in public is a 'neglected' issue.
Unlike men who move from one point to another and back, the travel patterns of women may be less regular. On a daily basis, many travels to child-care centers, schools, their places of employment, shops and their homes.
A recent study showed that 94% of women are being harassed in public transportation. Advances have been made to men as well. However, our society tends to be conservative. People do not open up to the injustice that they are being subjected to, although it has not been reported some bus conductors themselves have harassed.
The Sunday Leader spoke to Dr. Sepali Kottegoda, Executive Director of the Women and Media Collective (WMC) who said "women do not tend to react to these advances when clearly they should. This is because it is degrading and they need to send a very strong message to the relevant authorities and the people who run these transportation operators because it is also the responsibility of every company or agency or ministry that provides transport to make sure that the passengers do not have to undergo any form of harassment.
"This is not the sole responsibility of women's organizations for the victims can be a sister, a brother or a mother," said Sharmila (fictitious name for the source chose to remain anonymous)she went on to say: "the people who are providing public transportation; what is their accountability? There has to be very strong regulations and actions against this issue."
The following is a story of a harassment victim. A mother of two who was taking her children to school by bus said "every morning I bring my children to school by bus because it is much cheaper than going in a three wheeler. Last week, on my way home after dropping my children I felt something brushing against me. Initially, I ignored it, but then it kept happening so I tried to turn around to see what it was but since the bus was packed I could not see the assailant. I wanted to scream but because I had to keep my dignity in tact I kept quiet." (the name was not mentioned as requested by the victim)
Women use public transportation on a daily basis but have little to say when it comes to bus fares and safety. This is unfair and women should be given the opportunity to give their opinions on public transport safety. In addition to that when women are being assaulted when using public transport their reaction is always misunderstood. It sometime centers wrongly on the victim instead of the perpetrator with the discriminatory suggestion that they should not have been traveling alone or that they should have used the bus or train earlier.
"It's important to create awareness and to take an active stance against it. If a victim decides to react and go to the police the perpetrator will be sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment for sexual harassment and assault," said Attorney and Trainer of Law, Gender and Social Empowerment Jeevanee Kariyawasam. She added that as it is possible to address these issues and people should come out more often and stand up for themselves.
The author is a journalist at The Sunday Leader
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