Building a Better Understanding of Sexual Harassment

Western Sydney University researchers are lifting the lid on women’s experiences of sexual harassment on public transport in Bangladesh.

Activists protesting rape block roads in Dhaka on October 21, 2020.

Over 90% of women who use public transport in Dhaka, Bangladesh have experienced some form of sexual harassment during their commute. Despite this alarming figure, few studies have explored women’s experiences of sexual harassment, the effectiveness of NGO initiatives, and how women are taking action.

At Western’s School of Humanities and Communication Arts, PhD student, Arunima Kishore Das is taking a multifaceted approach to better understand sexual harassment of female commuters on public buses in the Bangladesh capital. 

“In Bangladesh, there are very limited spaces for women to freely share their experiences of harassment on buses,” says Megha*, a 20-year-old commuter. “If we do, we will be stigmatised.”

By combining qualitative surveys and social media analysis, Das is investigating women’s experiences of sexual harassment on public transport, their views on women’s rights and gender relations, and how they are using social media to raise awareness. 

“NGOs tend to portray women in Bangladesh as passive victims,” says Das. “But many are using social media campaigns to try and change their situation. This isn’t being acknowledged.”

In 2019, for example, Bangladeshi entrepreneur, Jeenat Jahan Nisha, launched a line of T-shirts with the slogan ‘Ga Gheshe Daraben Na,’ or ‘Don’t Stand Too Close’, to raise awareness of sexual harassment on crowded public transport. The T-shirts quickly became used in a social media campaign, attracting both praise and criticism. Other women have established Facebook groups to raise funds for launching women-only buses in Dhaka to reduce sexual harassment cases.

Need to know

  • Sexual harassment is rife on public transport in Bangladesh.
  • NGOs, the government, and women commuters are pursuing initiatives in parallel.
  • Arunima Kishore Das hopes her research will help these groups work together.

Das is also examining initiatives run by government organisations and NGOs to assess whether they are adequately addressing women’s issues, and how donors in western countries are influencing these interventions. She has found that many of these initiatives do not take into account how class, religion, education, and ethnicity shape women’s perceptions of sexual harassment. Organisations leading projects to tackle this issue largely haven’t consulted women commuters. 

Das plans to share her research findings with women commuters, NGOs, and government departments to help the groups work together to develop solutions that tackle sexual harassment on public transport more effectively. She also hopes her research will contribute to the development of safer public transport systems for women. This is key to the Sustainable Development Goal for sustainable cities and communities.“To have a sustainable city, you need to have a sustainable public transport system that is safe for women,” she says.

*name changed for privacy

Meet the Academic | Arunima Kishore Das

Ms Arunima Kishore Das is a PhD candidate at the School of Humanities and Communication Arts in Western Sydney University. She is nearing to complete her doctoral thesis titled Teasing-Eve: Diverse Perspectives of Women's Sexual Harassment in Dhaka City, Bangladesh. Arunima has received Australian Government-funded Research Training Programme Stipend (RTP) Scholarship in 2018 to pursue her PhD. Throughout her PhD journey, Ms Das has been awarded competitive travel grants to present her research findings in several countries including the USA, England, Australia, and New Zealand. So far, she has published two peer-reviewed book chapters and one article resulting from her PhD thesis. Since 2018, she has been regularly teaching in the Schools of Social Sciences and Humanities and Communication Arts at Western Sydney University. Arunima is presently serving as a Research Assistant on an ARC Discovery project, studying Pentecostal connections in Australia and Brazil. Her research and teaching interests include gendered space, gender-based violence, masculinities, migration, religion, racism and anti racism, postcolonialism, decoloniality, feminism and social media campaigns.  

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Future-Makers is published for Western Sydney University by Nature Research Custom Media, part of Springer Nature.