Making public spaces safer for women by improving public awareness: a joint effort in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by UN Women and the local Ombudsperson

Date: Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Author: Anam Abbas

The knowledge corners contain information related to the laws related to harassment and other resources to create awareness on what constitutes harassment. Photo: UN Women/Mohammad Bilal
The knowledge corners contain information related to the laws related to harassment and other resources to create awareness on what constitutes harassment. Photo: UN Women/Mohammad Bilal

An initiative in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, north-western Pakistan, is teaching women, and the wider public, about their right to feel safe in public spaces, and what they can do to fight harassment and violence, including on public transport. Information stands have been set up in bus stations, containing leaflets on what constitutes harassment, and what legal resources are available for women if necessary.

“This corner has inspired women to raise their voice and report incidents when facing any harassment in public spaces as the very act is a punishable offense”, said one female passenger.

The initiative is part of a joint effort between authorities of the province and UN Women Pakistan to make public spaces safe for women, girls, and other vulnerable groups.

Women and girls not only deserve to be safe in the streets and on public transport: It is also essential for their equal access to social activities, education, employment and leadership. However, sexual harassment and even violence remain far too widespread.

It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that women and girls are socially, economically, and politically empowered in public spaces that are free from sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence. The Ombudsperson Secretariat for Protection of Women Against Harassment at the Workplace collaborated with the Trans Peshawar company to establish knowledge counters at the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service. Resources contain information on the Anti-harassment law at provincial level and relevant information on article 509 of Pakistan Penal Code to raise awareness and sensitize commuters on creating a supportive and dignified environment for every citizen regardless of gender or age.

Ending violence against women and girls continues to be one of UN Women’s top priorities in Pakistan. “We are closely working with Ombudsperson’s office to ensure that public and workplace safety for women is prioritized and ensured for their economic empowerment, added Zainab Qaiser, head of the UN Women sub-office in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

According to the Ombudsperson’s office, awareness of human rights laws and institutions is key to better delivery of justice and safety services. The establishment of the knowledge corners at different public places is one activity to support this objective, and will be expanded to different districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

For women, it is a very effective step towards curbing harassment in public spaces. A male passenger also shared that these corners highlight the gravity of the issue and make it clear that ensuring safety in public spaces is everyone’s responsibility.

Earlier during 16 days of activism in 2020, UN Women supported the Ombudsperson office in coming up with audio as well as visual messages that were displayed on bus screens regarding the Section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code. The BRT management has also committed to reinstating the public-service messages announced on BRT buses and in stations soon.