Kriti Khatri, Nepal, SSH Blog Correspondent
Street safety and its relation to women’s independence is connected, from the perspective of women’s mobility. However, rarely has there been an effort to create Safe Streets precisely from the perspective of concerns about women’s mobility. Our street is symbolic of free spirit and freedom itself, but for women the street remains a place to get victimized from various kinds of harassment activities and women have to go through traumatizing experiences of sexual and emotional harassment. A woman being more vulnerable towards various kinds of harassing activities their safety during travel is important.
While we raise voices against street harassment, one important aspect to concentrate on is harassment activities on public transportation. Reports showcase that harassment on public transportation on buses, trains, etc is more frequent for women than on the streets.
Horrendous acts of physically and mentally harassing women via gesture, touch, grabbing, verbal abuses or even constant gazes make taking public transportation a big hesitation for women. In thickly stuffed buses or other means of transportation like trains and metros, women get easily victimized from physical touching, grabbing etc. And since the crowd is a good excuse, it rarely get noticed or exposed. Sexual harassment activities make women feel emotionally left out and drained. As a consequence, women can develop negative attitudes towards their relationships with their male partners and family ties as well. Psychologists says harassment activities not only make women feel raged with the male genre, but also go through mental irritation concerning their body image and social behavior which in the long run can cause depression and other emotional issues.
A report conducted by Astitwa foundation shows that about 90 % of women has been suffered from street harassment activities among which harassment in public vehicles is the most encountered in Kathmandu. Such harassment activities have been found occurring on school buses, by bus staff, public buses and other travel means. As per the report, most women have been found to experience uncomfortable touching and sexually explicit behavior. While women share their stories of harassment activities, in terms of response, most of them seemed silent. Respondents to the topic of harassment in public vehicles were hesitant about reacting to such activities. Many women seem to remain quiet about this issue by either adjusting in the crowd or dropping in nearby bus stop as their immediate self protection act.
“As for talking we can say I will take immediate action but when such incident happens, we go through emotional hold back, I felt raged but helpless and disgusted when the fellow passenger make uncomfortable gestured towards me, here I can say I wanted to slap him but at that time all I wanted was to get out of the bus.” — a 25 year old school teacher from Kathmandu.
Sexual harassment in public vehicles has been an issue raised by many social organizations in international level. With ever raising incident of harassment activities which has even lead to cases like gang rape and murder of women in public vehicles, this issue has been a concerned area in relation to women safe mobility and independence.
Concerned with the growing number of harassment activities, Nepal Police has initiated strict monitoring of the public transportation system. As per the Nepal police, travel safety of citizen and especially women is on their top priority after getting multiple reports filed against sexual harassment in public bus. According to the information of the Nepal Police, cases regarding public bus harassment are registered more than any other kinds of street harassment cases. As of now, women police are allocated in various bus stations to check inside bus which at least give a chance for victim to complain or make people aware of their act. In future Nepal police aims to monitor bus activities via closed caption cameras. There has also been initiation from nongovernmental sectors to make legal reformation against harassment activities collectively under violence against women in which there should essentially be strict provisions regarding street harassment.
Apart from the legal provisions, effort should also be from bus-driver, conductors and fellow passengers to discourage such activities in the vehicles. Their effort can demoralize the doer, at the same time make women feel safe and comfortable.
“I was standing on the bus and a guy happen to stand right beside me with his hand around my shoulder from backside, the bus driver saw that and ask the conductor to make him step out of the bus saying that such cheap activities won’t be tolerated in his vehicle, It really felt so nice to find bus drivers with such attitude towards activities going on his vehicles.” — 23 old employee who make 14 km of bus travel every day for her job in Kathmandu
The act of harassment and violence against women is more of a moral matter than legal. Unless individual understands that harassment activities against women are immoral, eliminating such acts won’t be easy with just legal threats. Women free conduct in the street or elsewhere is only possible when there is assurance of Safe travel and such safety can only be assured in morally governed society and justice run state system.
Kriti Khatri is student of MSc chemistry. She is engaged in different social organization in Nepal and currently she is working on anti-street harassment issues with the Astitwa Foundation. Find more of her writing on her blog.Share on Facebook