A campaign to raise awareness on sexual harassment in public transport
The projection mapping on the Town Hall building
- Mayor Senanayake dedicated to ensuring the well-being of women in her municipality
- A study notes that harassment incidents are more prevalent during peak hours
- Campaign encourages victims to speak out and seek support from the law
Leading to this year’s International Women’s Day, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) together with the government authorities and Colombo Municipal Council launched an audio-visual installation to encourage the public to speak up, intervene and be part of the change that tackles harassment in public transportation in Sri Lanka. The exhibition at the Town Hall Grounds, Colombo features stories of women who had the courage to share their accounts to raise awareness hoping to end the silence of victims in the face of harassment.
Welcoming the attendees UNFPA Representative, Ritsu Nacken, stated that according to the national study commissioned by UNFPA, 90% of women are subjected to sexual harassment in public transport and only 4% of them report the incidents with the Police in Sri Lanka. She declared that sexual harassment is a grave violation of human rights. “If you are a victim, don’t suffer in silence – speak up, if you witness sexual harassment, don’t look away – intervene,” she said.
She further praised the Ministry of Transport’s decision to implement women’s only compartments adding that her home country - Japan, India, Mexico, and other countries have introduced the same approach.
Activist and lawyer, Shalinie Kulatunga, describing the harrowing experience of being harassed in the bus, with video evidence, brought light to the inherent issues in speaking up such as verbal abuse from the harassers, victim blaming and bystander’s inaction. Expanding on her personal experience on reporting a sexual harassment Ms. Kulatunga revealed the lack of awareness on the law, in implementing, by Sri Lanka Police.
Mayor of Colombo Rosy Senanayake
Colombo Mayor Rosy Senanayake, delivering a speech representing the government at the event,asserted the necessity to carry out a campaign to guide the law enforcement officials to effectively enforce the laws in place.
She added that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesighe is committed to increasing women in the national workforce from the current 36% to 40% by 2020, and safe travel in public transport is essential to achieving this goal.
As the first female mayor of Colombo, Ms. Senanayake further expressed that she is dedicated to ensuring the well-being of women in her municipality.
Minister of Women and Child Affairs, Chandrani Bandara was notably absent at the event. The speakers at the event did not highlight the divisive nature and practical issues when advocating the separate compartments based on gender.
A 2017 UNFPA policy issue identifies harassment in public transportation is part of a larger issue of harassment occurring at home, within workplace, and public spaces. Contributing to a study in 2015, a participant revealed how a boy, she assumed to be 15 years old, ejaculated on her dress before getting off the bus.The study noted that harassment incidents are more prevalent during peak hours.
Many participants revealed they felt helpless and often stayed silent because it is considered a normal experience of travel. The campaign aims to raise awareness that it is the right of the individual to speak out and seek support from the law.
- Sri Lanka Police lack awareness on the law and implementation
- PM committed to increase women workforce from 36% to 40% by 2020
Law on sexual harassment
Section 345 of the Penal Code of Sri Lanka recognises sexual harassment as a criminally punishable offence. If the perpetrator is convicted, the penalty is imprisonment up to five years and/or a fine. The unique projection mapping on the Town Hall building marked the end of the event.
The exhibition is opened to the public free of charge from March 2 - 8 from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm at the Town Hall Grounds, Colombo.