Ending sexual violence in Matatus: In pursuit of a public transport system respectful to women and girls

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Safari Njema met Naitore Nyamu-Mathenge, End Sexual Violence/ Justice for Girls expert at Equality Now, a non- governmental organization. Published here is a transcript, slightly edited, of the conversation on what the organization is doing to rid the matatu industry of sexual assault cases

By Stephen Macharia

For how many years has this organization been in existence?

Equality Now has been in existence for the last 25 years. In 2017, we marked 25 years of advancing the rights of women and girls. Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with international, regional and national legal advocacy.

You have a partnership with NTSA, kindly talk about it.

One of the core functions of NTSA is to ensure the provision of safe, reliable and efficient road transport services. We partnered with NTSA as they play a crucial role in the transport industry and they can assist in spreading the message of ensuring that women and girls are not violated in matatus.

Additionally their goodwill in such a campaign is critical as they are a key player in the transport industry. In view of NTSA’s unique and crucial role in public transportation, the safety component of this role encompasses freedom of passengers from violation including of a sexual nature.

Beyond holding the perpetrators of these crimes accountable, this engagement is aimed at a holistic approach that addresses behavioral and attitude change within the society.

The inaugural activity dubbed #MyMatatuStory (Nganya Safe) was launched on the 6th of December 2017.

What prompted you to start the campaign against sexual violence in the public transport sector?

There have been numerous reports of cases of sexual violence in public transport in Kenya. Most of them go unreported and most commuters are not aware where to report these cases.

In Kenya, violations of this nature were brought to the fore in 2014/2015 when numerous incidents of women being stripped and sexually violated in public transport were widely reported resulting in the #mydressmychoice campaign that advocated for arrest and prosecution of perpetrators of sexual assault of women and girls in the Public Service Vehicles (PSVs).

Have there been any convictions out of the cases reported?

Yes, In July 2017, (Criminal Case No. 1765 of 2014 ) we had a landmark judgment whereby the court sentenced the accused persons to twenty five (25) years in prison for sexual assault and life imprisonment for robbery with violence.

What is the process of reporting sexual violence cases?

Victims of sexual violence are advised to visit the hospital/health care facility within 72 hours. This ensures that they get the necessary medical attention, examination and collection of evidence. Thereafter the matter should be reported to the police who will fill in the P3 form and the other part to be filled in by the doctor. The police should then arrest the perpetrator who will be arraigned in court.

What kind of help do you offer to victims of sexual violence through this campaign?

Through our partners, we offer legal advice and connect the victims to various service providers. In certain instances, we take up the cases on behalf of the victims.

Sexual violence victims usually suffer from stigma. What are you doing to address that?

We creating awareness through trainings among the various service providers like the lawyers, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions on how to handle cases of sexual violence. This ensures that victims do not suffer secondary trauma once the matter comes to court.

What gaps have you identified in the laws that govern public transport that you think if amended would address perpetration of sexual violence in the sector?

We have adequate laws that can prosecute various forms of sexual violence. What is lacking is implementation of these laws and support for victims of sexual violence. NTSA was recently withdrawn from the road through a presidential directive.

Do you think that will affect your campaign?

Not at all, their mandate to ensure safe, reliable and efficient road transport remains. There is proliferation of taxi companies such as Uber and Taxify.

Do you think there is also need to extend your campaign to that sphere?

Currently our target is the matatus, since that’s where most cases of sexual violence have been reported.

What is the ideal public transport culture that you intend to achieve with this campaign?

A culture of respect and safety for all women and girls who use matatus, where the focus shifts from victim blaming to perpetrators being held accountable for sexual harassment and assault. The matatu crew should be in a position to help women and girls who might be violated while commuting. We also want to create awareness to all commuters on the various forms of sexual violence.

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