Fighting Sexual Abuse In Public Transport

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Writika Rijal

Sexual harassment is a major problem women and girls face while travelling by public vehicles in Nepal. Many women, especially female students, constantly experience verbal abuse, unwanted touch, and physical assault. They encounter a variety of offensive behaviours, such as teasing, staring, winking, groping, pinching, making sexual remarks, spreading sexual rumours, and squeezing or touching their private parts. 

These kinds of behaviours not only violate the fundamental rights of women but also affect their physical and mental health as well as their ability to participate in the community. Many students in the Kathmandu Valley use public transportat like buses, microbuses, and tempos to get to their schools and colleges.  Students, who have to travel 20 minutes to reach school, are often scared to set foot into a bus because they know what is coming for them. They fear somebody is trying to pull their shirts or touch under their skirt.  

According to data on offence against women, 735 females experienced sexual harassment during the Fiscal Year 2020/21. Majority of women feel embarrassed and hesitate to report the incident of harassment due to fear of social stigma.  The society forces people to be quiet and forbids them from talking about sexual harassment. If they speak, they will be labelled an "attention whore." 

Section 224 of the National Penal (Code) Act, 2017states that a person shall be considered a perpetrator of sexual harassment if he holds or touches or attempts to touch any sensitive organ of, or opens or attempts to open undergarments of, or obstructs or hinders in any way the wearing or removing of undergarments of, or takes to any lonely place in an unusual manner, or gets his or her sexual organ to be touched or held by, or uses vulgar or similar other words, spoken or written or by gesture or by way of electronic medium, or shows any pornography to, or teases or annoys with sexual motive, or behaves in an unusual, undesirable or indecent manner with, a person who is not his wife or her husband, without her or his consent, with the motive of having sexual intercourse with her or him.

According to a survey, around 82.1 per cent respondents reported having encountered sexual harassment in public transportation with verbal harassment accounting for 85.1 per cent of those incidents, followed by physical harassment (80.1 per cent) and nonverbal harassment (70.8 per cent). The behaviours like teasing, staring and passing sexual comments are some the factors that contribute to the incidence of sexual harassment on public transportation. Few public transportation companies have sexual harassment policies in place, and those that do get hardly enforced. 

A woman should be strong enough to voice against sexual harassment.  It is very important to raise awareness to fight sexual harassment.  Women should always put their safety first and exercise caution. Learning self-defence technique like Karate can provide women with the good knowledge and self-assurance as they would be able to defend themselves from sexual harassment. They can even use their personal weapons like pen, keys, water bottle and umbrella to defend themselves while they feel they are being sexually assaulted.  Governments can make public transportation systems safer and more inclusive for everyone by introducing clear policies and laws, stepping up law enforcement, installing security cameras, and introducing victim support services.

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