Photos: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
Getting a seat on a bus during office hours is nothing less than a dream!” exclaims 25-year-old Sabiha Akhter, who works at a private company, and travels from Mirpur 10 to Farmgate everyday for work. As buses are the cheapest medium of transport in Bangladesh and Dhaka, being the most densely populated city, problems in public transport are inevitable. But, especially when it comes to the issue of women commuters, it is an everyday battle to move from one place to another during rush hours.
“Instead of thinking about getting a seat, I just contemplate whether the conductors would let me get on the bus or not; or sometimes, how I can get onto the bus, pushing the huge crowd of male commuters,” adds Akhter.
According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the number of economically active women is increasing rapidly. The statistics showed that the total number of economically active population is 61.4 million in 2015, where 18.3 million are women. Of them, a large number of working women are working in the capital. But, compared to the high-income working women, the low-income women face more troubles in terms of transportation and they have to depend mostly on the public transport system.
Though the mobility of women has increased to a great extent, the woes of these women have also raised accordingly. For example, on our traditional buses, basically, nine seats are allotted for women, disabled, and children commuters. But in reality, most of the times, these seats are occupied by the male commuters and if anyone argues about this, they don't pay any heed, and rather use offensive comebacks.
22-year-old banker Asmaul Husna says that she prefers to stand most of the time. Travelling from Azimpur to Motijheel every day, she says, “It is horrible when male passengers sometimes intentionally push me from the back and give a very general excuse-- 'hard break!'
During busy and rush hours, the drivers avoid students with uniforms on and the conductors shout saying the words 'no half pass.' “When we, female students claim to keep half the fare, they argue with us, but when it's the issue of male students, they don't argue much since boys go to the extent of fighting!” says 24-year-old Fatimatuj Johra, a student of University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB), who travels from Jatrabari to Dhanmondi.
Apart from the buses, many women are bound to depend on more expensive private modes of transportation or spend more time walking to their destinations. But walking is also close to impossible, since these women have to face obstacles such as footpaths encroached with small shops, broken walk areas,construction works, man holes and worse of all, cat calls and molestation.
A report titled 'Women and the City' by AcionAid, an international non-governmental organisation, also reflects the experiences of over 3,000 women and girls living in urban communities in Brazil, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Liberia, Nepal, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Along with multiple challenges shared by the interviewers, the issues of gender-responsive public services get significance in the context of Bangladesh.
However, according to the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC), there are 17 woman friendly bus services which exist both in Dhaka (15) and Chittagong (2) and these are operated with a minimal number of commuters, without any profit. Contrary to that, the women commuters claim that women from first or second stops can enjoy the service, but commuters from the rest of the stops get no benefit from it. Many of them don't even know that BRTC has such services for them!
“If the demand is huge during office hours, we will try to introduce more women buses”, assured Md Mizanur Rahman, the chairman of BRTC.
On the other hand, the transport experts believe that introducing more women-only buses by BRTC cannot be the solution of such problems. “If everything goes in a systematic, structural and organised way just like the developed countries, all problems regarding transports can be eliminated”, says Prof Md Shamsul Haque, transportation consultant and road safety expert, who also teaches civil engineering at BUET.
“For example, if only five corporate companies are appointed for the whole transportation sector, with five distinct colours and all the staff members are paid a salary, the problems would decrease,” he adds. “If we can do this, the staff members need not depend on the number of passengers they take and they will never show negative attitude towards the so called 'slow female passengers'.”
The female commuters are still hopeful for a better transport system. As always, they are expecting the government to understand their plight, and eventually, introduce an organised transport system, so that they can travel without any kind of trouble.