A group of gender-rights and transportation experts have come out in favor of Hanoi’s embattled plan to establish female-only public bus routes to protect women from sexual harassment but a senior official said more public opinion is needed before it materializes.
The municipal government ordered the state-owned Hanoi Transport Corporation to explore gender segregation on certain problematic routes after a study prepared by NGO ActionAid Vietnam and the Research Center for Gender, Family and Environment in Development (CGFED) suggested that a significant proportion of the city’s female commuters feel unsafe.
Khuat Viet Hung, vice chairman of the National Traffic Safety Committee, told Thanh Nien that the plan demonstrates that the government of Hanoi is taking a responsible and modern approach to the problem.
Hung said several foreign governments have established separate buses for men and women, as well as different waiting areas for them at bus terminals.
He advised the city to carefully study other countries' experiences to ensure the program is effective.
Nguyen Thi Kim Thuy, deputy director of the Hanoi-based CGFED, also supported the plan but said it must be implemented in tandem with other measures to stop the problem.
“There are many other public places where women will still be at risk of sexual harassment,” Thuy said.
She said the city needs to raise public awareness of the harm such behavior can cause.
Nguyen Quang Toan, former senior lecturer at Hanoi's Transportation University, said the plan could provide a proper solution to the public outrage that sexual harassment has fomented.
He acknowledged that the plan may bring all sorts of inconveniences--men will no longer be able to travel with his wife or girlfriend.
“But the plan is a good thing," he said. "There’s no such thing as perfect solution.”
Nguyen Hoang Linh, deputy director of the Hanoi transport department, said the agency would study the issue thoroughly before having the final say.
Linh said the all-female bus routes w not operate any time soon as the idea remains open to public debate.
He said the department would continue to poll public opinion, and if the public are largely in favor of the plan, it would submit a detailed proposal to Hanoi People's Committee, the municipal administration, for approval.
In the opposing camp, Nguyen Minh Hoa, a lecturer at Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities, said the plan only provides a band-aid to a much larger problem.
“We're talking about public transportation and we're asking men to leave?” Hoa asked, suggesting that surveillance cameras would provide a better solution.
Hoa said if people can have more space between each other on a bus, there will also be less harassment.
ActionAid and CGFED questioned 2,046 people in Hanoi and HCMC.
They released the results of their survey early this month, revealing that 31 percent of female students said they had been harassed on public buses.
The respondents also identified parks, bus stations and public bus terminals as unsafe places for women.