21 Mar 2012

Former Fiji taxi boss stands by harrassment comments

11:32 am on 21 March 2012

The former general secretary of the Fiji Taxi Association is standing by comments he made linking sexual harrassment with women's standard of dress.

Rishi Ram has stepped down from his position following the outcry over his suggestion that taxi drivers won't harrass women if they stop wearing short skirts.

Women's organisations say women and transgender passengers face widespread harrassment and abuse by taxi, bus and minivan drivers - and it's got nothing to do with the way they dress.

Annell Husband filed this report.

"I did not hurt anybody. My lesson was to educate our passengers. Because under the LTA regulations, under the passengers' code of conduct, it says very clearly that passengers have to be dressed up in a neatly and tidy manner."

Rishi Ram says he only stepped down from his position out of respect for the attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum, whom he was told had requested his resignation.

However Mr Ram says when he spoke with the Mr Sayed Khaiyum the next day the attorney general denied making any such request.

A taxi association trustee says trustees are unhappy with the way Mr Ram was forced to resign and a meeting to resolve the situation is set for Tuesday.

Mr Ram says he's stepped down until the matter blows over and he stands by his advice to women passengers.

I can't stop anybody coming with small skirts or small dresses, that's their prerogative. But it was my advice that if your door is not locked properly, the house door, the thief can enter. So if your door is locked properly, nobody enters.

It's not advice that the co-ordinator of the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre, Shamima Ali, considers helpful.

He could have talked to the women, he could have talked to the organisation, the Fiji Women's Rights Movement, he could have talked to us and said how do we address it, you know rather than - and I'm sure he thought - because like many other people they think it's being helpful when they tell women how to behave. But we've moved on from there.

Shamima Ali says there's been a conspiracy of silence around sexual harrassment and abuse of women in Fiji.

But Fiji's Land Transport Authority says it's taking the complaints of sexual harrassment very seriously.

The manager of safety, education, community relations and training, Timoci Satakala, says the authority is reviewing the entry standards for becoming a public service driver.

Because these concern our mothers, our sisters, our daughters and we're taking it on board as a responsible organisation would do, in listening to the young women and taking the concerns very seriously and making sure they are addressed.

The co-ordinator of the Fiji Women's Rights Movement's Emerging Leaders Forum Alumni says that's something her organisation is helping with.

Roshika Deo says the alumni is working with the authority to set up safe complaints procedures, create and revise sexual harrassment policies and provide gender sensivity training.

Ms Deo says much of the time drivers don't realise that what they're doing is wrong but on other occasions they're well aware of it.

These are instances where they start following you in the taxi. They acquire your phone number, they're outside your home, they're calling you or they start grabbing you or groping you. There have been instances where when they give change they touch you inappropriately in the sense that they linger on your arm or they just touch your arm or hold it.

Roshika Deo says by shifting the blame from the perpetrator to the victim Mr Ram has undermined the realities and experiences of many passengers.