Sabrina Rahman, an employee in a private company, was waiting at the Mohammadpur bus stand for her daily commute. Many buses came and went, but Sabrina could not even make it to the doorsteps due to the intense rush of office-going crowd. After many attempts, she finally boarded an overcrowded bus. As all the seats were occupied, she somehow found a little bit of space to stand inside the bus. Shortly afterwards, she noticed that a male passenger was deliberately trying to touch her. When Sabrina politely asked the man to move over a little bit, he became angry. “If you have so much trouble, why did you ride a public bus in the first place?” he yelled. Another male passenger chimed in, “Hey helper, why did you allow these female passengers to board the bus?”
In another scene, Priya was returning home from her office. When she stepped into the bus, she saw a male passenger had taken a seat reserved for woman. When she asked him to vacate the seat, he angrily said, “Why do women need reserved seats?” Another passenger yelled, “Do not you women folks demand equality all the time? Why do you want reserved seats then?” Priya and Sabrina’s stories are far too common in this city. Everyday, thousands of women commuters across the country face similar ordeals. To make public transportations more women-friendly, the Route Permit Section of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) has imposed the precondition of reserving at least 9 seats in big buses, 14 in BRTC buses and 6 in mini-buses for women, children, and persons with disabilities in Dhaka city. While most of the buses have the sign “reserved for women, children and disabled” written above the designated seats, many male passengers have no regards for this rule.
Most of the times, the reserved seats are occupied by the male passengers with the full approval of the driver and conductor. If the female passengers ask the male passengers to give up the reserved seats, they are often subjected to crude, angry and humiliating remarks. Moreover, some conductors do not let women commuters enter the bus even if there are reserved seats available. Their general justification is that “Women take up too much space, and we can squeeze three male passengers into the space needed for a single woman.” According to the condition laid out in the route permit, the reserved seats for women are supposed to be behind the driver’s seat. However, in most of the local busses and mini-buses, the reserved seats are placed right above, or beside the hot engine box. Even those uncomfortable seats are often occupied by male passengers. Getting out of the public transports is another nightmarish experience for the women commuters. The drivers do not want to halt the buses even for a couple of seconds and expect the passengers to jump out of the still running vehicles. This practice is especially risky for the women passengers because of the types of clothes they wear. Besides, incidents of sexual harassment, lewd comments by male passengers, etc., are commonplace in the public transports. Women from other parts of the country do not have the “privilege” of reserved seats at all. As a result, they have to go through unspeakable sufferings while commuting by public transports everyday.
In 1990, BTRC launched a women- only bus service on two routes of Dhaka City. However, the service was not commercially profitable, and was shut off after eight months. It was re-launched on October 25, 2001. According to BTRC, 16 women-only buses are currently running on various routes of the capital. However, the women commuters are yet to reap any benefit of this service. Most women commuters are not even aware of the women-only bus service, its timing, and stoppages. Those who know about the service complained that the buses hardly ever maintain schedule and/or follow designated routes. The women-only buses often carry male passengers to make some extra bucks.