FOR women, getting on a bus in Port Moresby meant an almost guaranteed experience of violence or harassment.
A scoping study conducted by UN Women in 2014 found that more than 90% of women and girls experienced some form of violence when accessing public transport - on buses, at bus stops, walking to and from stops, or in taxis.
This included verbal sexual remarks, inappropriate touching, and indecent exposure in terms of sexual violence, and also extortion, robbery, threats or intimidation.
“I am a single mother of five girls and I want them to live in a society that is free of violence against women,” says Helen* from Port Moresby.
Helen has just experienced how different the situation can be since she started taking the Meri Seif Bus—a bus exclusively for women and children—provided as part of the Safe Public Transport for Women and Children Program.
With tracking systems and three uniformed bus crew, the buses offer a safe space where women and girls can travel safely and discuss issues affecting their safety and mobility.
From August to December 2015, the Meri Seif Bus served 47,000 women passengers travelling between Gerehu and Port Moresby town, a distance of about nine kilometres.
UN Women is implementing the program in partnership with the Ginigoada Foundation, the Road Traffic Authority and the National Capital District Commission supported by the Australian Government and the Australia National Committee for UN Women.
The program is upgrading transport infrastructure and introducing regulations to support efforts to end sexual harassment in public spaces and ensure increased access to economic opportunities for women.
There is also training for public transportation authorities and bus drivers to prevent violence against women and a campaign - Sanap Wantaim (Stand Together) – has been initiated to engage men, women and particularly youths on the issue.
“I think there should be more programs in schools, especially at primary schools, on sexual harassment, so that young boys learn how to respect girls,” said Patricia*, a 14-year-old female student. “Parents should start teaching boys to be better citizens.”
Jeffery Buchanan, country director for UN Women in PNG said, “We must embrace the rights of women and girls to claim Port Moresby as their own—to walk, shop, travel on buses, go to school, work and enjoy a peaceful quality of life.
“When the city will be safe for women and girls, it will be safe for everyone,” he said.
* Names changed to protect confidentiality