Sexual harassment on public transport? “It’s not my business to intervene” say urban commuters in Sri Lanka

New research from Oxfam finds that sexual harassment of women, girls and gender non-conforming people on public transport is tolerated by urban Sri Lankan commuters who consider it normal male behaviour, an everyday occurrence and the fault of women for not being submissive, obedient or dressing decently. These beliefs are fuelling abuse, 90 percent of women and girls in Sri Lanka have been sexually harassed on buses and trains at least once in their lifetime and over half say they have experienced violence on a regular basis according to a 2017 study by the UN.


Despite the widespread prevalence of sexual harassment, Oxfam’s research reveals that women are not only blamed for the harassment itself, but also criticized for complaining or causing a scene. Data from the UN shows that just 8 percent of women and girls in Sri Lanka seek help from law enforcement when facing sexual harassment on public transport, while 82 percent of bystanders say they rarely intervene when they witness abuse.


Heshani Ranasinghe, Gender Advisor for Oxfam in Sri Lanka states:


“In every community that we spoke with, the blame for sexual harassment and the onus for preventing harassment was placed on women, girls and gender non-conforming people. The perpetrators are not considered to be doing anything wrong – and they continue to offend, enabled by a strong social expectation that good women should not create a scene, and that bystanders should not intervene. Creating safe public transportation starts with questioning and challenging the sexist beliefs and ideas about women.”


Sri Lanka needs to consolidate its spectacular success in the past year in closing its gender gap by 68% by making it safer for women to use public transport to take up new opportunities in jobs and schools.


The report formed the basis of a new campaign ‘Not On My Bus’, launched in March 2019 which aims to reduce sexual harassment in public transport by promoting bystander intervention through public events to raise awareness and engaging commuters online about what they can do if they witness sexual harassment on the bus.


“When we tried out some initial social experiments when the campaign was launched, the only response portrayed from bystanders was to ask the person being harassed to stop shouting”, said Heshani.


This campaign is part of Oxfam’s worldwide Enough campaign to end violence against women and girls. So far, 22 countries have launched the campaign across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and the Pacific, an additional 14 are on-track to launch.

Notes to editors

The report, ‘Smashing Spatial Patriarchy: Shifting social norms that perpetuate sexual and gender-based violence on public transport in Sri Lanka, is available here:


For more information on the ‘Not On My Bus’ campaign here:


For more information about the Enough campaign here: 


For updates, please follow @Oxfam and @OxfamInAsia

Contact information

For additional information please contact Michelle D'cruz  I   +65 83222611   I