Bangkok works to fight sexual harassment on public buses

THAILAND - The Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) launched a campaign last week to educate bus drivers, conductors and passengers about what behaviour is sexual harassment and how it can be dealt with. It has also released some 10,000 stickers, pamphlets and video clips to help the effort.

Teeranat Kanjanauksorn Foundation, in collaboration with the BMTA, initiated the project after an internal survey a year ago revealed that sexual harassment was rife on public buses.

Naiyana Suphapueng, the foundation's coordinator, said some BMTA staff did not know what constituted as sexual harassment and, more often than not, offenders get away with infringing on the rights of women - be they bus staff or passengers.

She said some female bus conductors had either become so used to sexual taunts that they ignore it or choose to skip work in order to avoid offending male colleagues - an action that has resulted in a drop in productivity. This the reason why the BMTA had decided to sit up and take note of the issue, she said.

So far, many of the 14,000 of the BMTA's staff have attended classes conducted by committees at each of the eight bus districts in Bangkok and its vicinity. In a move to reinforce measures, certain volunteers have been enlisted to detect cases of sexual harassment.

Young, good-looking women - be they staff or passengers - are the most vulnerable to sexual harassment, Naiyana said.

She added that though most women knew that physical harassment, such as groping, could be dealt with legally, not many know how to deal with leering looks or offending comments.

"Sometimes, male passengers ask young bus conductors if they'd want to go live with them, while others touch or caress the conductor when collecting the ticket or handing over the fare," Naiyana said. She previously worked as a commissioner at the National Human Rights Commission.

As for male bus drivers, it is not uncommon to hear them say things like they would love to have sexual relations with a good-looking colleague, or male executives openly offering young female bus conductors a cushy desk job in exchange for sexual favours.

Young female passengers also often fallen prey to groups of leering or aggressive young men, though sometimes bus drivers have the wherewithal to lock the bus doors and drive to the nearest police station to have the offenders arrested.

Naiyana explained that stickers will be posted on buses and other means of public transport to explain different forms of sexual harassment. "This is only the first phase," she said. "We encourage the organisation to continue working on it. Previously, many people did not even know that what they were doing was wrong."

Yong Chimplee, who has worked as a BMTA bus conductor for some time and is now plying the bus No 13 route, is one person working to help crackdown on this problem.

She said that though she hoped the problem was eradicated, it would take a long time. But she said that since the campaign was launched, staff members at all levels were more aware of the issue.

"Previously, everybody thought it was just teasing and that it was acceptable," she said, adding that members of staff were also more willing to help passengers suffering from harassment.