Women In Manila Voice Fear Of Harassment On Public Transport

November 18, 2014 – In Manila, millions of women rely on public transport while braving the city’s infamous snarling traffic. They also face the prospect of harassment.

Elsa Sanchez, a resident of Manila, is wary when she takes public transport – so much so that she asked Channel NewsAsia not to reveal her real identity. When taking a taxi or bus, she is conscious of the people sitting near her and the driver.

Ms Sanchez said she has witnessed a robbery right in front of her, and many times has been made to feel uncomfortable or even threatened.

“I was headed to San Juan and I noticed the driver wasn’t paying much attention to the road. He was watching something on his tablet and he was saying sorry and started giggling a little. He turned it off and he said: ‘You know I’m a guy and I need to be entertained once in a while’,” she recounted.

“He was watching porn. Since it was very quiet in the cab he started asking personal questions, like ‘are you married?’ I said no but I had a partner – this was all made up. He asked: ‘Is your partner satisfying you in bed?’ I said I don’t think that’s an appropriate question to ask a passenger. Even when I tried to put my foot down he still kept trying to weasel out information.”

Ms Sanchez’s story is one of many cited by women taking public transport in the city. Incidents have been reported in taxis, buses, trains and jeepneys and range from verbal and sexual harassment to hold-ups and robbery.

Statistics of these, however, are not readily available, as most women do not go to the police after incidents. More commonly, the evidence is shared on social media networks and chain emails.

A recent survey showed 94 per cent of women in Manila support women-only transport as a solution.

Each train in Manila is fitted with a women’s only carriage which makes travelling more comfortable for them. However during rush hour these carriages fill up quickly and women are forced to stay in other sections. According to government officials, this is when most cases of harassment occur.

As an additional measure, the government has also recently introduced Gender Focal Points within its different departments. Rowena Quiogue heads the committee, named GAD, at the Department of Transportation and Communications.

“Each agency has its own GAD desk so if there are harassments or problems arising on the road they can coordinate with the GAD desk of each agency to conduct investigations,” she said.

Still, so far, the group has been far from overwhelmed.

“Not so many cases have been reported, especially since people don’t know these things are installed,” said Ms Quiogue.

Analysts worldwide have questioned whether public transport exclusive to women is simply a band-aid option to a systemic problem.

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