Harare Women Face GBV, Assault Amid Transport Shortages
By Lerato Mpofu
High demand for public transport has forced female passengers to compromise their safety, peace of mind and health. Private operators have taken advantage of the shortage by clandestinely offering this critical service, but regulations on numbers per vehicle are largely not adhered to and overloading is common. However, women face the additional burden of harassment and increasingly, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) on public transportation.
Sarah Mataruse (28) from Kambuzuma explained that women face harassment at the hands of touts known as ‘hwindis’. “It starts with verbal abuse when the touts call on you to board their combis, they sometimes call us names like,’ bhebhi’or ‘chimhamha’ and any other name that comes to their mind. Then if you tell them you are going on a different route, they insult you and shout to embarrass you,” added Mataruse. Sarah pointed out that these insults usually happen to women because the touts view women and girls as more vulnerable than men.
In Harare, touts at Simon Muzenda rank (4th Street), Copa Cabana, Market Square and Mbare Musika bus ranks are known to particularly harass female commuters in order to fill their vehicles quickly. Touts often engage in aggressive behaviour in order to increase their trips so they can meet their daily income targets.
Vongai Nharo (52) is an elderly woman from Mufakose who survives on vending. Nharo relies on public transport to buy fresh produce from Mbare Musika or in Highfields. “Transport is very expensive for my business and I always have to be creative about how I travel and the mode I use,” she said.
Nharo explained that most vendors use the same mode of transport and sometimes they have to sit on each other’s laps to create space for their produce. “It no longer matters if I am with my son-in-law or whoever, we do what works for us even if it means his legs come between mine because that is the only way to travel. But we are never comfortable,” she complained.
Nharo believes senior citizens should be prioritised. Sadly, most touts are only interested in making money and commuters have expressed concern about getting to their destination safely, and without being harassed.
Another critical danger women face by using mushikashika for transport is being robbed, or worse, raped. Last week 31-year old mushikashika driver Sam Muropa was arrested and charged with 19 counts of robbery and six counts of rape. Muropa would drive around the city looking for women who needed transport, pick them up and then rob and sometimes rape his unsuspecting victims.
To help address this, the Women’s Democracy Network Zimbabwe (WDN) launched the campaign #ACT2ENDGBV in March earlier this year to help bring awareness to the disproportionate effects of public transport and the lack thereof on women. #ACT2ENDGBV is an ongoing call-to-action for members of the public, transport operators, policymakers, civil society, media, ZRP and human rights activists to take action to end GBV and harassment on public transport.
Comprised of men and women, the trained gender champions are from residence associations, passenger associations, youth and faith-based organizations. During the training of gender champions, WDN resolved to respond to increased reports, complaints and social media of videos, images and the general public outcry of GBV in all aspects of public transport