Sexual harassment faced by Sri Lankan women and girls in public transport at 90%

Tuesday, 28 February 2017 - 16:26


It was revealed that 90% of women and girls in Sri Lanka have been subjected to sexual harassment on public buses and trains on findings of an island-wide study commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The results also showed that only 4% of the victims sought help from the Police, according to latest media reports.

The UNFPA commissioned this national study in 2015, taking a sample of 2,500 women and girls between the ages of 15-35 years coming from all administrative districts of the nine provinces in Sri Lanka. The data was gathered through stakeholder consultations, key informant interviews, and questionnaire surveys.

Since this was a high priority national issue the UNFPA addressed it in partnership with the Ministry of Women’s and Child Affairs, Ministry of Transport & Civil Aviation, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Sri Lanka Police, by launching a public advocacy campaign titled ‘Does she travel safe?’ (ඇයසුරැකිගමනකද? அவளின்பயணம்பாதுகாப்பானதா?).

UNFPA convened a press conference in Colombo to launch the campaign this morning. Members of the head table included United Nations Resident Coordinator Ms. Una McCauley, UNFPA Representative-designate Ms. Ritsu Nacken, Chairperson of the National Committee on Women Ms. Swarna Sumanasekara, Head of Children and Women Bureau of the Sri Lanka Police – Ms. L.R. Amarasena, and Activist from Grassrooted Trust, Ms. Paba Deshapriya.

During the press conference, UNFPA presented a policy brief on the issue of sexual harassment against women in public transport, with suggested policy recommendations. Ms. Sharika Cooray, UNFPA Programme Analyst also made a presentation on the survey findings.

Highlights of the presentation revealed that three individuals can trigger a positive change: 1) the victim – by speaking up and taking action; 2) the bystander – by intervening and extending support; and 3) the perpetrator – by not inflicting any such harassment. The desired state or response will require long-term advocacy and strategic behavior change communication programmes carried out on a large scale.

UNFPA Representative, Ms. Ritsu Nacken emphasizing on the importance of addressing this burning social issue stated, “Sexual harassment against women on public transport is one form of Gender-based violence. In order to address the issue of gender-based violence at large we must gather nationwide data to assist in formulation of evidence-based policies. This study is a first step towards gathering GBV data in Sri Lanka”.

It is imperative that sexual harassment directly violates basic human rights and contributes to a culture that discriminates women and girls, adversely affecting them physically, psychologically and economically. It is a burning issue faced by women across the world and could occur in varying degrees of physical and verbal abuse that can even lead to incidents of assault and rape.

The local campaign carried out by UNFPA is part of the Ministry of Women’s and Child Affair’s national celebrations to commemorate International Women’s Day coming up in March 2017.

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