Despite ‘safe’ tag, 16% of women in Chennai face sexual harassment in public spaces: study

November 10, 2023 12:06 pm | Updated November 11, 2023 04:42 pm IST - CHENNAI

Many women are unaware about panic buttons installed on MTC buses. File photograph

Many women are unaware about panic buttons installed on MTC buses. File photograph

A study conducted by the Gender and Policy Lab of the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) has revealed that about 16% of women were sexually harassed (verbal, physical, visual) in public places over the last three months in Chennai city.

Significantly more women at transit points (22%) reported sexual harassment than women at public places (12%) and women at households (14%), according to the study on Women’s perception of safety in public places and public transport in the city.

Graduate women and women in the age group of 18-35 were the major respondents among the women who mentioned that they were sexually harassed. Shockingly, more than 70% of the transgender persons reported some form of sexual harassment at public places in the last three months.

Harassment was reported at multiple locations, mainly on the bus (42%), while boarding the bus (20%), at the bus stop (15%), while alighting the bus (13%). As much as 62% women mentioned that no one intervened. Whenever intervention took place, 45% mentioned police intervened and 38% mentioned intervention of known people and strangers.

More than 40% men in the survey reported they had witnessed sexual harassment against women. Of them, 18% reportedly did not intervene even when the victim was known to them, while 14% said the victims were strangers to them.

Around one fourth of the men who did not intervene mentioned the hassle of dealing with the authority (29%) and fear of getting attacked (25%) as the main reasons. About 20% said they did not intervene because the incident took place because of the women’s clothes or behaviour.

Buses are primary means of commuting for women in Chennai
Public buses were the most commonly used means of transport (68-89%) for different purposes, including work, education, and household needs. Despite positive perceptions of public transport, issues such as last-mile connectivity, accessibility for persons with disabilities, and high fares of autorickshaws were challenging, women who were surveyed said

The way forward

Chennai Mayor R. Priya Rajan, third from left, released the annual report (2022-2023) of the Gender and Policy Lab of the Greater Chennai Corporation on Thursday, November 9, 2023

Chennai Mayor R. Priya Rajan, third from left, released the annual report (2022-2023) of the Gender and Policy Lab of the Greater Chennai Corporation on Thursday, November 9, 2023 | Photo Credit: Akhila Easwaran

The study, with a sample size of 3,000 persons, was conducted from February to May 2023. It emphasised that creating a safer and more inclusive Chennai required collaborative efforts between the government and citizens.

When asked why they did not report cases of harassment, 31% did not know where or how to report, 29% did not want family or public to know about it. The other factors included fear of not being believed, emotional and psychological impact, lack of trust in the justice system and fear of escalation of the issue in case of retaliation.

The surveyed women sought more CCTV cameras, clear roads and streetlights, reduction of dark corners and isolated areas and increased police protection and police booths. On gender responsive public transportation, they said more women should be employed in the transportation sector, sensitisation of all transportation staff, better transport infrastructure and readily available bus timings and route maps.

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