Women have the right to feel safe wherever they happen to be sitting, and not just on special seats
When it comes to ensuring the safety of women on the road, Bangladesh still has a long way to go. This is not just an abstract matter of how safe women feel when out in public -- the hard statistics paint a dismal picture of just how much sexual violence takes place out there, every day.
According to a recent report by Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, last year alone, 59 women were raped or subjected to some form of sexual abuse on public transportation. This number almost certainly downplays the true scope of the problem, because most women in this country do not report incidences of assault or harassment to the authorities.
The study reveals a disturbing reality where female passengers are frequently harassed, not only by bus drivers and helpers, but also by other passengers.
Such behaviour should not be tolerated in any civilized society, and we need to do a better job in laying down the law, and making it clear that sexual abusers and harassers will not be granted impunity, no matter who the victim.
But first, we need to catch the perpetrators, and the way to do that is by ramping up our surveillance. CCTV cameras on public transport would go a long way towards deterring such incidences, and all transportation staff should be required to wear clear, legible name tags to make it possible to identify them.
Reserved seats for women are only a partial solution; societal attitudes regarding what kind of conduct is acceptable need to change. After all, women have the right to feel safe wherever they happen to be sitting, and not just on special seats.
Right now, Bangladesh is involved with a number of ambitious infrastructural projects, but these initiatives will not amount to much if citizens cannot move about the city with a basic feeling of physical safety. Let us fix this problem as a priority.