Harassment and Insecurity on Public Places and Bus Stops – Javeria Kashif

The Right to freedom of movement is a fundamental right and it is acknowledged universally in International Human Rights Instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966. Our Constitution also provides this basic right to every citizen of Pakistan. Every person has the right to move freely (Article 15 of Constitution of Pakistan 1973)

Harassing women and girls on public places is one of the kinds of sexual harassment / violence. When women and girls travel alone they are being harassed on public places. Cultural and social norms severely restrict the movement of women and girls in Pakistani society. There are different ways of harassment which the harassers use;
• Staring
• Whistling
• Singing
• Obscene gestures
• Sexual comments
• Touching
• Blocking way etc.

This type of harassment \restricts women to travel alone and it is a big hurdle in the way of women to move freely. Women feel a high level of insecurity when they go to public bus stops or places. Rapid urbanization, pressures on transport, poor planning, lack of road safety & poor transport infrastructure contribute towards harassment and violence against women and girls.

In December 2017 a Women’s safety Audit report in public Transport in Lahore was launched by Aurat Foundation in collaboration with Australian Aid, UN Women, Government of the Punjab. The report was prepared under the supervision of Miss Mumtaz Mughal (Resident director – Aurat Foundation-Punjab). The results of this report are alarming as well as shocking. According to the statistics of the Women’s safety Audit report in public Transport in Lahore, about 82% of women commuters report facing harassment at bus stops. The younger women (20-29 years of age) are more likely to face harassment as compared to older women. About 62% of women state that they have been harassed by fellow passengers. Women also report being harassed by bus staff and by passers-by.

Women and girls take limited action when they are harassed on public transport. About 98% of are unaware of existing emergency helplines/ mobile phone applications to report sexual harassment. Most of the women and girls ignore such incidents instead. They don’t take action against the perpetrators due to many reasons. They feel that if they take action against the harassers there are chances that they will defame them again and again. They also believe that if they complain, their complaint will not be acted on.
Women and girls are not aware of governing laws on the subject. According to the report about 94.8% of women are unaware of such laws and 99% of women have no knowledge of PPC section 509, which deals specifically with sexual harassment.

The report analysis tells us that all bus stops, even newly built Metro bus stations do not provide basic facilities and special needs to women commuters, pregnant women, young children, disable women or elderly women. The LTC (Lahore Transport Company)bus stops lack proper lighting, benches, signage, dustbin, shades, surveillance cameras etc.

The following proposals are requested in the said report:
• The surveillance cameras and alarms must be installed on bus stops to record the incidents of harassment etc.
• Women conductors must be appointed in the women section of the buses to avoid harassment.
• Emergency phone booths must be fixed on bus stops so that women can report harassment cases immediately.
• Mobile police teams/ dolphin force must be appointed near bus stops and its surroundings especially in evening and night.
• Women traffic warden must also be appointed in larger bus stops especially when there is crowd.

There are many other recommendations which are requested in the report. There is need to sensitize public about the problems of women and to train them how to deal with such problems. There is also the need to increase mass awareness on issues and facilities related to government transport services including security services such as helplines, PSCA – smartphone app for women and pictorial information for harassment.

The challenges related to women’s safety in public places and on public transport are identified and highlighted through the report of Women’ safety Audit in public Transport in Lahore. These challenges are still unsolved. This report has emphasized on a coherent and concrete policy making to overcome the challenges. This is the ultimate purpose of women’s safety audit in public transport in Lahore project.

Jawaria A Kashif is Advocate of the High Court, Lahore and can be contacted at javekshf@gmail.com . The views expressed are of the author who takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the content and any claims arising from it.

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