Matatu sector rife with cases of violence against women and girls – survey

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Naomi Mwaura (left), Flone Initiative Founder & Executive Director, issuing a first aid certificate to a WIT operator

By Purity M. Thuku

At least 88 per cent of commuters in public service vehicles (PSVs) in Nairobi have heard of or experienced cases of violence against women and girls (VAWG), a new study by Flone Initiative, a charitable trust “working towards ending violence against women and girls in public spaces” has said in a survey.

According to Violence against Women and Girls in Public Road Transport and Connected Spaces in Nairobi County, a study published in 2018, 64 per cent of the harassment cases happen at the bus stations while 18 per cent occur inside the PSVs. The most common forms of harassment against women in PSVS include inappropriate touch, offensive gestures abusive and vulgar language and sexual assault.

Speaking to Safari Njema, Flone Initiative Founder Naomi Mwaura said these forms of harassment happen every day and decried normalization of harassment in the matatu sector. “Harassment and violence of all forms have been going on in public transport. It is only that people are not talking about it,” said Naomi.

Data in the survey shows that 37 per cent of Matatu SACCO managers would fire the perpetrators while 32 per cent of PSV operators would report the harassment to the police. Only 36 per cent of passengers would consider taking action against the perpetrators, including reporting the case to the police.

“Alarmingly, some commuters (25 per cent) attribute women’s clothing as a major contributing factor of (AWG). 21 per cent attribute VAWG to the fact that police do not take such cases seriously. It is worth noting that 18 per cent believe that the failure of victims to report such cases is a major contributing factor.

Commuters also believe that the lack of reporting mechanisms in the PSV SACCOs and overcrowding in public transport vehicles contribute to VAWG at 14 per cent and 13 per cent respectively. The lack of security personnel accounted for five per cent while poorly lit and isolated bus stops were also identified as major contributors of harassment at three per cent,” Flone Initiative says.

According to Naomi, harassment of women and girls in public transport makes commuting insecure and uncomfortable for women. Flone Initiative, the founder said, has received over 300 women harassment cases since 2013 when the organization commenced operations.

A majority of the cases are reported in urban areas, Mary Mwangi, the programs manager at Flone Initiative revealed to Safari Njema. Harassment, Mwangi noted, is usually random and not based on how the victims dress, demystifying popular beliefs. “Before a woman is undressed, verbal harassment comes first. Most women reported having been undressed mostly challenged the attackers.

Attackers feel that the best way to dehumanize someone is by undressing her. If you look at the previous cases of undressed women, they were dressed differently ranging from dresses to trousers jeans. The issue of dressing is used to cover up other issues,” Mwangi added.

The organization urges PSV operators to “avoid using abusive language and inappropriate physical contact” and provide “a conducive working environment free of harassment and discrimination.” Flone Initiative also urges commuters to report witnessed cases of harassment to the police urging the government to “provide reporting mechanisms” that include toll-free lines “where commuters can express their grievances or report cases of VAWG.”

In a move to reduce cases of harassment, Flone initiative has been conducting training sessions for PSV managers and operators on professionalism and gender rights. Flone Initiative concludes that “VAWG remains an issue of concern both in public and private sphere. Street harassment is common but not limited to the public transport vehicles and the related spaces. Women who operate private vehicles also face harassment occasionally.”

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