This project aimed to reduce sexual harassment on buses running in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital and most populous city. It was conducted in partnership with BRAC – the largest NGO in Bangladesh (and in the world), and BRTC, the state-owned transport corporation of Bangladesh.
According to recent research, close to 95% of women in Bangladesh have been sexually harassed while commuting. Active bystanding – where onlookers intervene in support of victims – offers a way to reduce the impact of sexual harassment on victims. The expectation of active bystanding might also encourage victims to speak out and deter would-be perpetrators from harassing in the first place.
We designed and tested a scalable intervention to encourage passengers to intervene when sexual harassment occurs: the resulting posters, to be placed inside buses, used infographics to encourage people to intervene and provided simple steps to take to do so safely and effectively.
We evaluated the impact of the posters by installing them on over 50 buses run by BRTC. In total we observed more than 790 bus trips, and recorded close to 950 incidents of sexual harassment. We also conducted 3,518 surveys with passengers. Our novel data collection techniques allowed us to collect important new facts about sexual harassment on public transport, and confirmed the scale of the problem. Sixty percent of bus trips we observed had at least one incident, and almost 1 in 10 women reported experiencing harassment on the bus trip they had just taken.
Our pre-post evaluation showed that the posters seemed to positively impact awareness of sexual harassment and attitudes towards victims, but not to affect active bystanding behaviour. It provides a cautionary tale for many interventions which have been said to be effective based on proven changes in attitudes, but also demonstrates the promise in the approach and the value of further testing.