Campaign for Women’s Safety in Public Places

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Campaign for Women’s Safety in Public Places

Women’s Safety in Public Places (WSPP) was a Bangladeshi civil society and public sector collaborative campaign spearheaded by Centre for Research and Information (CRI). From CRI’s end, its youth platform Young Bangla led the main convening. CRI, United Nations Development Programme’s country office and government’s National Human Rights Commission jointly implemented the campaign from 2020 to 2022. The campaign was designed to promote mass awareness and policy changes about the nuances of gender-based violence in the country.

The background  

Even though the WSPP campaign was launched in 2020, its history goes back to 2015 when Young Bangla was a nascent initiative of CRI. Today, Young Bangla is the largest youth platform in Bangladesh, with over 400 organizations attached with it. In 2015, during a network mobilizing workshop, some of Young Bangla-affiliated youth voiced serious concerns about harassment, even sexual violence, faced by women in public places.

CRI’s researchers, soon dug into the issue, and found out that it was an alarming problem which unfortunately wasn’t being discussed openly. Sure, there were some studies and media reports on the rise in cases of sexual violence on women in Bangladesh. But the extent of it happening in public places was not clearly defined.

Soon after, Young Bangla embarked on a long-term intervention for women’s safety to gradually counter gender-based violence in the society. It started doing a lot of background work on designing a campaign and identifying collaborations. The first major step was in 2019, when member of Young Bangla network made a call from the stage of the biggest rock gala (the Joy Bangla Concert) in Bangladesh. The issue quickly got mass attention.

Next, in 2019 itself, CRI collaborated with Centre for Men and Masculinity Studies – a research institute housed in Dhaka University and the UNDP, to conduct a workshop on women’s safety. It was a workshop to generate ideas for strategizing an awareness campaign on the women’s safety issue.

CRI then evaluated that women’s safety issue need to be approached from both awareness and rights-based place. CRI team then, onboarded UNDP’s country office and Bangladesh’s National Human Rights Commission as partners of the campaign. UNDP would be co-convening the campaign.

Launching of WSPP campaign  

The collaborative campaign by Young Bangla, UNDP, and NHRC was launched in between the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in 2020. The campaign partners decided that, with the pandemic-induced shutdown, it was an opportunity to grab people’s attention. The campaign was carefully designed to sensitize people on women’s protection in public places in Bangladesh. In addition, it also had a policy/legal reform advocacy component built into it.

The campaign was ceremonially launched by the highest representatives of CRI, UNDP country office and Bangladesh Police, along with public representatives and relevant government ministers. The strategists revised the original pre-COVID-19 campaign plan that was developed in early 2020. The revised plan stressed on utilizing digital platforms to raise awareness and promote vigilance.

Youth-led activations  

As part of the campaign, 10 youth-led organization (within the Young Bangla network) from different parts of Bangladesh were handpicked as convening partners. The campaign would focus on disseminating information, enhancing capacity of stakeholders, and advocating for legal reform. The research team reviewed the existing laws, conducted a series of focus group discussions, and evaluated case studies to develop policy advocacy and public awareness documents.

Next, different stakeholders were coopted into the campaign. These included law enforcement agencies, transport owners, municipalities, market owners, religious leaders, and rights activists. They would be the heart of the campaign. The 10 youth-led organizations then conducted on-ground activations in 10 districts, mostly in southern Bangladesh (Dhaka, Narayanganj, Rangamati, Barishal, Chattogram, Patuakhali, Bogura, Rajshahi, Narail and Khulna).

These are some strategic tools for on-ground activations:

  • Capacity-building workshops at grassroot involving youth organizations
  • Participatory situational analysis by the youth organizations
  • Formation of campaign volunteers’ team at the localities
  • Workshops at selected big cities
  • Multi-stakeholder meetings targeting youth organizations, media, local community, transport sectors and educational institutions
  • Creative show-downs at hot-spots where harassment is high
  • Dissemination of flyers, stickers and different goodies
  • Conventional media and social media campaign

A total of 2,200 volunteers and 29 trainers implemented the on-ground activations.  An estimated 11,500 people, from different walks, directly participated in the on-ground activities.

Online buzz

The campaign strategists used online platforms to reach the engaging youths. A verified Facebook page was created which became very popular in a short span of time. There were many viral messages stemming out of the page. At the same time, a campaign website was formed with critical resources like the country’s laws and protection system for addressing violence against women.

A survey revealed shocking findings

As part of the campaign, a survey (a total of 5187 female respondents) on women’s safety in public places was conducted in 2021.  The results revealed the following:

  • 87% faced harassment in public places
  • 36% of women faced harassment in transport
  • 23% faced harassment on streets
  • 11% of women faced harassment in cyberspace
  • 36% of women said that they protested while 34 percent did nothing
  • 34% didn’t get any support from the public when they faced harassment

Policy Café on Women’s Safety in Public Places

CRI organizes its signature Policy Café, to push for a specific policy reform. In case of WSPP, a law on women’s safety was stuck in the pipeline which the campaign thought needed advocacy-push. The campaign partners organized a Policy Café on Women’s Safety in Public Places in August 2022. It was also a wrap-up session of the campaign.

The then Law Minister, a Dhaka city mayor, the Chair of NHRC, the high-ranking female police officer along with different government and civil society leaders were the chief discussants. Youth campaigners, policymakers, civil society representatives and law enforcement agency members openly discussed the insights gained from the campaign and need for policy actions (including the fresh law) to address women’s safety in public places.

The takeaways  

The campaign reached 12 million people through online and on-ground interventions. The youth-led organizations actively engaged with this campaign to raise awareness. Key stakeholders extended necessary support to make public places safer for women.

The youth participants and the campaign evaluators listed 10 specific recommendations:

  • Female workers at the garments sector who walk long distances late at night, walk through highways which do not have any CCTV cameras or proper street lighting. Street lights and CCTV cameras should be installed on highways to deter perpetrators from committing violence.
  • Hate speech against women are rampant online. In Bangladesh, some religious influencers preach hate in front of large audiences, which go viral online. These hate speeches should be removed.
  • Lesson that teaches children about the equal treatment of all human beings regardless of gender needs to be made mandatory in the school curriculum.
  • There is a lack of data which prevents the policymakers from coming up with concrete interventions. A data tracking hub needs to be set up.
  • CCTV cameras must be installed in public transport.
  • Laws mandating hiring of female drivers would create safer and more equal space. Corporations can play a significant role in ensuring this recommendation.
  • Legal professionals and law enforcement agency members at the grassroots need to be trained to deal with cyberbullying.
  • There should be a visible presence of female law enforcement officers to make women comfortable when they report their cases.
  • Eliminate risky behaviors and sexist remarks in entertainment content.
  • Segregation of schools or public transport is highly discouraged. Ensure women’s safety in the existing sphere without segregating them from their male peers.

 

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