A woman commuter in the Dhaka city bus

Public buses, dominated by male commuters in Dhaka, have notorious reputation for their discriminatory service and environment. For women, this transportation system has little to offer but demands a lot, both physically and mentally. Women, who travel frequently by bus, have experienced gender discrimination often. Nasrin Humayra shares her thought, drawing from her own experience.

During my student days, I worked but used to travel to my office by rickshaw. To me, back then, commuting through Dhaka city was nothing troublesome. However, after my graduation, I took a full time job at a bank and had to travel to Motijheel from Dhanmondi on a daily basis. Given Dhaka’s scenario, buses are only viable pubic transports to commute around the city. But do you know the real face of the bus services in Dhaka? How do women find these transportations?

As a woman, my regular trips have opened an entirely different scenario of our public transportation, which is, extremely male-chauvinistic and discriminatory in nature. Another thing has become evident to me, that is, in gross words, Dhaka city buses are something meant for men only. There are nine specific seats allotted for women in every bus, I do think this is a discriminatory gesture, because, sanctioning a special quota means women are lesser than their counterparts.  Moreover, those seats are usually the ones beside the engine, which is the most unpleasant place in the bus. The other day, a survey showed that due to travelling beside engine for a prolonged period of time, one might catch different physical problems. In this case, women will be the major victims.

Women who travel regularly by bus during pick hours are very familiar with the unwilling bus-helpers who are reluctant to allow women in their bus. ‘Don’t take any women’, ‘there are no women seats left’, ‘the bus is already full’, ‘you can’t go standing’ et cetera — are some of the common phrases a woman has to tolerate during office hours. As if, only nine women are allowed to commute on each bus, but what will the other women do? The bus drivers and helpers often get very rude and misbehave with many commuters only because they are women. More worryingly, many male-commuters are seen supporting these misbehaviours, some even enjoy the miserable condition of women.

Things get even more irritating once you settle down and over-hear conversations of fellow male commuters. What you will make from their words are disgusting — women are not supposed to work, they are neglecting their household duties for jobs, because of women males are losing seats in bus and facing competition in the work places. As if, we should retreat from our jobs just to clear the path for the males, just to be under their control, in home and on road. They pretend to be guardians of women, seems like it’s their moral, divine duty to think about the betterment (confinement) of the woman race.

When you share these things with your friends and family, their answers are enough to enrage you even more. They will suggest you to ignore those words, those behaviours, but is it that easy? The question is, should we tolerate these discriminations? Silent tolerance will only encourage these behaviours and mentalities. In fact, not protesting these harassments, in the first place, has given more space for these to grow.

Women seats are usually at the front side of the bus. You will find that most males are sitting clustered beside the women seats. Why is that? The answer is obvious to any woman who travels regularly by bus in Dhaka — seeking chances for a quick touch, making it look unintentional. Countless women are being sexually touched in cramped public buses by those men who have families at home.

In a recent survey of Centre for Bangladesh Studies, it is said that at least 94 per cent women face sexual harassment in Dhaka’s public transports; which means, every woman who travels in Dhaka city in public vehicles, faces unfortunate, at times traumatic, events. How would their wife and children react should those molesters are exposed in public? Not good right? That should exactly be the punishment for those sexual predators — public humiliation.

Another scenario is common in the buses. Women are charged more than the fare-chart. The other day, I was charged Tk 5 more than the regular fair. It didn’t matter how much I protested this, the ticket-checker did not pay any heed. Moreover, not a single person protested this because I was a woman. Those silent voices are found shouting about flaws of women. How thoughtful and responsible of them!

Last year, a series of incidents have gone viral on the social media. Presumably, a group of people are travelling in the city busses and slash women’s clothing with a sharp object. What can we make of this? What could be their ideology behind this action? It seems, they believe, women are not supposed to be outside, they are to maintain the household, those who are not doing this shall be punished through humiliation, in this case, a slashed dress.

Even in this grim situation, a government service came to women’s relief. There are a couple of Motijheel bound bus services which are exclusive to women, only women are allowed to travel in them. As a result, they can travel to and from their office to home in a safer manner, in a more convenient environment. I take the women’s bus every evening while returning home. This ensures me a seat, with a women crowd it gives me an easy ride as well as a sense of safety. India, in recent years, has seen gruesome sexual crimes in public transports. Even in Bangladesh, a woman was brutally raped and killed in a public bus and such incidents are on the rise.

Public transport, in Dhaka, is one of the worst transport systems, if not the worst in the world. Lack of transports, untrained drivers, ignoring of traffic rules are some of the reasons. Overcoming those, women, unlike men, have to face another layer of difficulty — discrimination because of their sexual identity. These male demonstrations are nothing but teachings from their families. Their families allowed their male child to be brought up like this; as a result, viewing women as a mere sexual object and household ‘help’ are nothing to be ashamed of. This practice should be stopped from home as well as strong implementation of law is needed. Families should teach their children not to discriminate based on a person’s gender identity. How to behave in a public environment should also be taught from the family, otherwise, roads will remain perilous for women. To do this, families should hold open mentality towards women empowerment and their advancement in the economic activities.


Nasrin Humayra is a recent graduate of University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh and a bank official.




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