It has happened again.
On Wednesday night, a young woman jumped out of a bus after the driver refused to drop her at her stop. She has several broken bones and a head injury. The Public Land Transport Authority (PLTA) is appealing to the public who have any information in relation to the bus to please contact them. In the meantime, the victim is recovering at Vila Central Hospital in a crucial but stable condition.
On the very same night, the PLTA has reported an alleged rape case involving two boys on a bus at Erakor. In this case, contact details and the vehicle registration number have been given to the police.
This is not the first time we have heard these stories involving bus drivers. Women have jumped out of buses in fear of their lives, women have been raped in buses and there have been incidents of women being run over by buses, being kidnapped and beaten by drivers, being sexually harassed while in the bus and being catcalled while walking on the street.
This anti-social behaviour is not just limited to violence against women – the fact is that the majority of road traffic accidents involve public transport drivers. Many of them are alcohol related. In May alone, there was 34 careless driving accidents and 13 alcohol-related road accidents and ALL of them were drivers of public vehicles.
Most public transport drivers are honest workers but the lack of regulation has seen unfit drivers take the wheel and cause harm to society. More needs to be done to end this unnecessary harm.
It’s not enough to say that girls need to take down the registration number and let their families know where they are going when they are travelling on public transport. It’s one step, but ultimately this is not a sustainable and practical solution in the long term. We need to think critically and talk about the root cause of these issues and identify holistic solutions, not band-aid solutions.
In this particular incident, one of the things that stand out for me is how people have responded to it. On social media, people are sympathizing with the victim and demanding that Au Bon Marche, her place of work, provide safe transport options for staff that work late. This might be considered a fair demand, particularly given that the under section 8 of the Employment Act, women are not supposed to work after 7pm, except under certain conditions. (This section of the Act is questionable itself but that’s an article for another day).
But if you read the comments on social media a few months ago when another young woman had jumped out of a bus after fearing for her safety, people blamed and shamed her. In this case, the young woman had been enjoying a night out with her friends and this was justification for the abuse levelled at her.
Let’s be clear. A woman deserves to go home safely, whether she is coming home after a night shift or after a night out – it is her human right. The comparison of responses between the incidents highlights that women seem to be only worthy of empathy and support when their activities align with what is deemed as socially acceptable. This is unfair. We need to protect ALL women, and our empathy for her should not be measured by how well she fits into our moral code.
While the private sector needs to consider social responsibility and while women and girls are forced to take precautions for their safety, it ultimately lies with the public transport system and relevant authorities to ensure the safety of the public.
How can we address violence against women and girls on public transport? And what is a solution that is sustainable and effective? If you are a student in Year 7 and above, I encourage you to participate in the Ministry of Education and Sista’s essay competition, “How would you address violence against women and girls on public transport?” (and plus you will be in the running to win 20, 000 VUV)
And if you are a parent of a student, I encourage you to get your child to participate in the essay competition. It is a good opportunity to explore themes of gender based violence, gender norms/stereotypes and gender equality.
This opinion article by Yasmine Bjornum was originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post.