Ahead of International Women’s Day, falls on March 8, Sri Lankan women shared harrowing accounts of being sexually harassed on public transport at an event organized by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Colombo yesterday.
UNFPA together with the Colombo Municipal Council, Ministry of Women and Child Affairs, and the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, yesterday opened a public exhibition titled “Does She Travel Safe?” featuring stories of victims of sexual harassment in public transport in Sri Lanka.
“I was travelling in a bus when the man seated next to me started to touch my thigh, while he was pretending to sleep. When I confronted him, I knew he would try to escape, especially since he had already made several such attempts. This is not the first time this has happened,” said Shalinie, a victim of sexual harassment in public transport.
Meanwhile, a study conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) stated that 90% of women and girls have endured sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime on public buses and trains. Only 4% of those affected reported the incident to the police.
Sexual harassment is a major type of harassment. In public transport, harassment can include verbal and non-verbal behaviours ranging from sexual remarks, whistling, groping and touching. Even though under section 345 of the Penal code of 1995, sexual harassment is considered a crime and therefore punishable in Sri Lanka, reports about these incidents unfortunately go unnoticed.
Delivering a speech at the event, the Mayor of Colombo Rosy Senanayake said, “Policy level actions need to take place in order to curb the national issue – sexual harassment in public transport. It is important that women are part of the planning and implementation of development projects to ensure a holistic approach towards making Colombo a safer space for all women and girls.”
UNFPA Representative in Sri Lanka Ritsu Nacken, praising the Ministry of Transport’s recent decision to have female-only compartments in trains, said this move also implemented in Japan, India, and other countries with the purpose of making it a means to a more sustainable solution in the future.
The public installation will be open to the public from March 2 to March 8, 2019 from 8.00 am. – 8.00 p.m. at the Colombo Town Hall Grounds. In parallel to the exhibition and International Women’s Day, UNFPA said it hopes to deliver awareness sessions for school students, bus drivers and conductors, and to the public, on how to speak up, intervene, and be the change.