Nepal’s capital has introduced a women-only minibus service in an attempt to reduce sexual harassment on the city’s often-overcrowded routes. The chairman of the company behind the initiative says the aim is to make women feel more comfortable and safe while traveling to and from.
“Groping and sexual assault is a problem for women who use buses, especially during peak hours when buses are overcrowded,” said Bharat Nepal, president of the Bagmati Federation Transport Union, which introduced the operation. “This is our small initiative to make commuting safe and secure for female travellers.”
Four minibuses with large “women-only” signs will operate on main routes in Kathmandu during morning and evening rush hour. Each vehicle will contain enough space for a total of 17 women.
“We have made investment in the service, so adding more vehicles will depend on the business,” said Dharma Raj Rimal, Bagmati zonal coordinator of the National Federation of Nepal Transport Entrepreneurs.
Only one of the buses has a female conductor, but officials said the end objective is to eventually employ an all-female crew.
“We are looking for support from the government as well as the commuters to make this service better,” Rimal added.
In a 2013 World Bank survey, around a quarter – 26% to be exact – of female respondents aged between 19 and 35 reported they had experienced some form of sexual assault on public transport in Nepal.
According to The Guardian, in 2011, five men, including the bus driver, viciously raped a 21-year old Buddhist nun in a bus during peak hours in eastern Nepal.
“This is a great initiative shown by the transport entrepreneurs to ensure ease for women commuters,” said Tulasi Sitaula, secretary at Nepal’s ministry of physical infrastructure and transport.
In neighboring India, complaints about sexual harassment prompted authorities to launch women-only carriages on the metro system in the capital New Delhi in 2010.
On the issue of whether men who are accompanied by women should be allowed to board the buses, Rimal said, “What if a husband and wife or a mother and son want to travel together? We are currently confused about that,” adding, “But for now, we will be entirely discarding male passengers.”