City planners and architects need to start designing gender-friendly spaces and take sensitivities into account so as to avoid creating isolated sections and enable community vigilance to ensure safety for women, said Professor Adnan Z Morshed, PhD.
A liveable city is where people feel safe to use public places and transportations, he said, adding that witnesses of wrongdoings in such places commit a moral crime if they shirk away instead of raising their voice in protest.
Professor Morshed, chairperson of the Department of Architecture of BRAC University (BRACU), was addressing a forum titled “The Invisible Violence” organised by the department at its exhibition space in BRACU’s Mohakhali campus on 5 June 2018.
The forum aimed at providing a platform for female students in particular to share experiences of being sexually harassed in public places and transportations and raise awareness among policymakers to address the issue.
Most of the students spoke of falling victim to frotteurs in buses, meaning passengers who took advantage of cramped spaces and rush of crowds to inappropriately touch women.
The students also accused other passengers of being insensitive and unmoving, telling the victims instead to accept the idea that one must inevitable experience being jostled by a crowd.
Another student opined letting children mingle irrespective of their sexual orientation from an early age, as he had done through a cultural club in Gendaria, to let them be accustomed to the differences.
One student spoke of being threatened with kidnap by a bus driver and conductor with silent support from the rest of the male passengers when she and her friend refused giving in to their demand of three times the regular fare from Shahbagh to Savar.
She spoke of literally having to jumping off the bus near Kalyanpur as the driver was intentionally not slowing down to let them off.
Jalal Ahmad, vice-president (national affairs) of the Institute of Architects Bangladesh, spoke of his pains reading comments online of people criticising victims and supporting harassers.
Psychosocial Counselor Shami Suhrid, also a BRACU lecturer, proposed creating support groups in every department comprising students and teachers so that victims could speak of such incidents instead of keeping it to themselves.
He also stated that the BRACU Counseling Unit was planning on formulating a “mental health policy”.