At our closest, there is just 3.7km separating Australia and Papua New Guinea, but the experiences of women and girls could not be further apart.
Women and girls living in Papua New Guinea face exceptionally high rates of violence, preventing them from accessing education and income-generating opportunities. Port Moresby is consistently rated as one of the most dangerous cities in the world due to its political instability and high rates of violence. This is exacerbated for women and girls, two thirds of whom have reported experiencing violence.
Much of this violence occurs in public spaces. In 2014, UN Women found that more than 90 percent of women living in Port Moresby had experienced sexual or physical violence while on or waiting for public transport. Violence was especially compounded on buses. With no other affordable means to travel, women and girls were left with little option but to stay home.
This led mothers to keep their daughters home from school because the risk of assault on their way to school was too high. Similarly, women are missing work because the risks of being assaulted on their way are too high. This is unacceptable. This violence is compromising the safety of women and girls, and restricts their movement around the city, hampering their opportunity to earn an income or get an education.
UN Women developed a simple solution to this problem: a women and children only bus taking women and children around Port Moresby in safety. After its initial launch in 2015, the program's success led to the introduction of a second bus service. In its first year, the two safe buses have serviced over 73,513 passengers, typically transiting more than 400 women and children each day, giving them the safety they deserve when travelling to work and school.
The Safe Bus (or Meri Seif Bus as it is called in Port Moresby) program was initially implemented using secondhand buses from Australia. This support was integral in the initial start-up of the program, but sadly they are now on their last legs. New buses are desperately needed to give women back their freedom. Freedom to earn, learn and move around the city.
The Meri Seif Bus will not end violence against women on its own. But simple solutions like this are needed for women and girls to stay safe, and to access their rights to education and livelihoods. While we work on longer-term attitudinal and behavioural change programs, the Meri Seif Bus fills a gap and addresses an immediate need for safety and freedom.
You can support the Meri Seif Bus project here.