Industry

New women-friendly transport law creates ray of hope among female commuters

DHAKA- The clock struck at 8.45 am. She came out of her home and reached in the bus stand at Mirpur-10 crossing at 8.15 am. But despite frantic efforts, she failed to catch any bus although half-an-hour had already been passed in the bus stand.

Her attendance book will be red marked if she is so late. At last Farhana, who works in a private firm at Farmgate area, started her journey by a rickshaw. It's her everyday hurdle.

Every month the lower income woman needs to spend Taka 3,000 for

travelling to her office by other modes of transport apart from bus. But instead of that she had to spent Taka only 1000 per month if she could have been avail bus to this end.

"It's very difficult for me to compete with male commuters to get in the bus especially during the office hours. Moreover, it's difficult physically for a woman to cope with the crowded bus. So, I have no alternative to rickshaw to go to office," said Farhana recently.

Bus is moving very slowly. Students and their guardians rushed at the door of the bus to get in. Bus helpers are often pulling and pushing many passengers to pour inside the bus that appears a common phenomena in front of City College at Dhanmondi like everywhere in the city.

"We are middle income people. If I have the ability, I will send my daughter to school by car. Now, bus is our last resort since I have no ability to own a car," said a guardian of a student of Dhaka City College preferring not to be named.

She added, "No bus halts in the stoppage properly. Helpers take advantages of the situation and behave indecently with passengers. Sometimes we protest, but nobody pays heed to us".

It's not the case of the only two women mentioned above. Every woman is subjected to suffer in mass transports in the city. Many women allege that they face such embarrassment while getting into the bus and many times they are also harassed by male passengers.

Many male passengers settle them in ladies seats. They behave rough and pass indecorous comment when they are requested to leave the ladies' seats.

But, now ladies passengers are hopeful about changing the situation as they would get legal support from the new law passed in the cabinet on March 27, 2017.

The law proposed penalty for sitting in the seats reserved for ladies, children or physically challenged persons or allowing any male passenger to sit in those seats reserved for women. It also proposed one month jail or fine of Taka 5,000 for violating the law.

Various organizations working for the women's rights, human right activists and civil society members welcomed the government's move for enacting such law.

Advocate Salma Ali, Executive Director of Bangladesh Female Lawyers

Association, hoped that the law would make the mass transport friendlier for woman. However, massive publicity, awareness campaign and strict enforcement of the law are crucial to make the law effective, she added.

Besides, Farah Kabir, Country Director of Action Aid, said 21 percent of the travellers in public transport are women and 47 percent of them used to travel by rickshaw, seven percent by CNG run auto-rickshaw and 19 percent on foot.

Being scared of harassment in the bus they use alternate modes of

transport, she said adding more females will travel in mass transport if it is made friendly for them.

But, observers opined that only the seat arrangement will not make the mass transport friendly for women.

According to Bangladesh Unnayan Gobeshana Pratishthan and Action Aid-Bangladesh, women usually avoid public transport in fear of sexual

harassment.

One of their studies says, 23 percent female travellers have experience of sexual harassment in public transport and 56 percent of them face the problem at the time of getting into the bus or 'leguna', a locally made mechanised vehicle.

At least 22 percent women are harassed in the bus counter and 18 percent are harassed by the conductor, and inside the bus four percent female passengers face harassment from co-travellers of opposite sex.

Secretary General of Bangladesh Roads Transport Association Kandahar

Enayetullah says, they are trying to confirm the segment of women seats in public transport. In minibus six seats will be kept reserved for women while in bus it will be nine and 13 in a double-decker.

"On the basis of any allegation we are taking quick action against the driver and conductor," he said adding that the association will issue written circular on the punishment for any indecent behaviour with passengers.

Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) has so far given training to 1.5 lakh drivers in which the issue of decent behaviour with female passengers was also included, chairman of the BRTA said.

A recent study of the Department of Dhaka University Women and Gender Studies said 40 percent women are harassed by individual males in public transport. Chairman of the department Dr. Syed Sheikh Md. Imtiaz said reserve seats for women in buses should be increased at least by 20 to 30 percent.

Every bus should have two separate doors for man and woman, he noted.

Noted psychologist Dr Mohith Kamal laid importance on changing mentality of everybody along with formulation of the necessary law and infrastructural development Many people familiar to the issue acknowledged that the new law is a milestone amidst many problems and difficulties.

State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Meher Afroj Chumki says a helpline number 10921 has already been given in the school textbooks. The number along with the directives towards women and children will be fastened in public transports.

A 15-member monitoring team headed by BRTA chairman is also working to curb the harassment of women in public transport, she added.

Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) now operates 17 buses in the city exclusively for women. It announced adding more buses in its fleet from next year.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) of the UN has fixed 17 goals to be achieved by 2030. Its 11th goal says for development of mass transport sector giving priority to women.

To achieve the goal the government has earmarked 27 percent of the public sector transport budget for women-friendly transport. The new act is a positive progress to this end, observers say.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)