Public transport: 90% of women face harassment but less than 4% complain

While over 90 per cent of Sri Lankan women are victims of gender-based violence (GBV) in public transport, fewer than four per cent seek legal recourse, a gender equality advocacy group said.

The Forum Against Gender-based Violence, a collective of both government and non-governmental organisations working towards facilitating gender equality in Sri Lanka shared this finding in Colombo today.

Addressing a gathering, Forum co-chair and OXFAM Sri Lanka Country Director Bojan Kolundzija said that GBV is widespread and deep-rooted all over the world and thus needs to be considered as a global issue.

“GBV is universal and doesn’t differentiate between the north and the south. Out of one study, we found that the cost of GBV is estimated close to USD 30 billion. At present, we are working on addressing the violence in public transport in Sri Lanka. The reason why we have chosen to do this is that we realise that more than 90 per cent of women and girls have been harassed in public transport,” he said.

United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) representative in Sri Lanka Ritsu Nacken said that although there were many successful efforts to address GBV in Sri Lanka, eliminating it entirely is far from reality.

“One thing is very clear. While we made many significant strides, a violence-free Sri Lanka is far from reality. One of the primary obstacles to eliminate GBV is that, sadly, many people still do not consider it a serious crime. Women are held back by the consequences of GBV. Another major barrier for eliminating GBV is the lack of accurate data. The police records only cover the reported cases. We know only that this is the tip of the iceberg; and as our study on sexual harassment on public transport shows, a vast majority of women and girls do not report to the police,” Nacken said.

Gender Equality Specialist Velusamy Weerasingham representing MenEngage Alliance, an organisation that encourages men to fight against GBV, described the initiatives taken towards eliminating GBV in public transport.

“We selected three areas in the country; namely Colombo, Kalutara and the Eastern province. We trained a selected number of bus drivers and conductors and taught them how to intervene in cases of GBV in buses. In 2010, we started a campaign on the138 bus route and we got to know that GBV is still prevalent. We also trained police officers in handling complaints, investigating related cases and taking appropriate legal action,” he said.

However, Weerasingham cautioned that GBV cannot be eliminated just by lodging complaints.

“As a part of another program we initiated, the National Transport Commission (NTC) requested a training handbook from us. We issued that in all three languages and also provided training to officials tasked with training SLTB drivers and conductors,” he added.

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