Experts urge participation of women in designing transport policies

Changing people’s mindsets and attitudes paramount to supporting policies, professor of health economics says

The lack of women's participation in designing transport systems, strategies and policies remains a major concern in regards to gendered accessibility and transport in Dhaka, experts have said.

They made the observation at the concluding ceremony of the “Knowledge Co-production Workshop for an Equitable Healthy Dhaka City” organized by Brac James P Grant School of Public Health at a hotel in the capital on Thursday. Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, chairperson of the Brac governing body, chaired the event.

Lack of availability of women-friendly public transport, lack of safety and security for women, and lack of gender responsiveness in terms of seating arrangements on buses were key concerns, said Dr Zahidul Quayyum, a professor of health economics and also director (research) at Brac James P Grant School of Public Health of Brac University.

He also named sexual harassment on public transport as well as poor conditions of those transports and bus stops as other major concerns.

There were policies in place in Bangladesh, but changing people’s mindsets and attitudes was also important to support the policies in action, he said while giving a presentation at the event.

Zahidul Quayyum suggested launching awareness campaigns in different forums and ensuring women's participation throughout programs and designing policies as possible solutions to the problems.

He also recommended the recruitment of women drivers, enforcement of laws against sexual harassment and proper monitoring of their implementation, and ensuring a complaint system and monitoring its effective implementation to ensure the security and safety of women on public transport.

Experts from Brac James P Grant School of Public Health gave three presentations linking institutions, researchers and partners to develop a future action plan. 

Sabrina Mustabin Jagirdar, an assistant research coordinator at Brac James P Grant School of Public Health, gave a presentation on “How can research and modelling on ambient lighting support decisions and policymaking in Dhaka?”, while Riaz Hossain Khan, a senior research fellow at the same institution, gave a presentation on “How do we address the issues and concerns of air and noise pollution in Dhaka city?”.

The experts at the event emphasized the importance of change in mindsets and offering humanities education to students from an early age to help them develop as responsible citizens. 

Dr Ashrafi Ahmad, additional secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said pollution in Dhaka city had reached an unimaginable level and the government was trying its best to implement all the laws and rules, but nothing would change if the issues were not addressed at the individual level.

Nilima Akhter, additional secretary of the Road Transport and Bridges Ministry, said the government was trying to provide accommodative transport to all passengers, but it alone would not be able to solve all the problems.

There were problems everywhere, including in the transport sector, but everyone should join hands with the government to find effective solutions to those problems, she said. 

“Change in mindset and having respect for the law is essential to building an equitable and healthy city,” she added.

Md Mizanur Rahman, additional secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said his office received over 20-30 complaints from across the country every day, but the government faced challenges and resistance whenever it tried to implement something necessary.

“I am helpless. Whenever I try to do something, we face lots of protests,” he said.

Prof Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), stressed the need for engaging potential users, including policymakers, in research to find effective solutions.

“Long lists of problems are not going to solve anything. Researchers need to focus on solving a particular problem, instead of identifying and studying a problem,” he said.

The expert suggested researchers reach out to the general public and practitioners in designing research for developing useful interventions.