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No safe space for women or kids: ‘If a taxi only has men in it or if it’s empty I refuse to get in’

2019-09-10 20:26

Gender-based violence is deeply entrenched in all facets of our society – from our homes, to schools, university campuses and even in the different modes of public transport used daily by commuters across the country.

There is no safe place for women and children.

Commuters who use public transport in the form of taxis, buses and trains live in constant fear.

“If a taxi only has men in it or if it’s empty I refuse to get in. I would rather wait for another one and be late for work than risk my life and possibly get kidnapped and raped,” said one commuter this week.

She added that she always had to think twice about what to wear before leaving home for the taxi rank because she feared being catcalled and groped by men.

“The drivers hurl all sorts of nasty comments at you with the support of male commuters. Some of them even grab at your skirt,” she said.

This was echoed by Nonhlanhla Skosana, the Sonke Gender Justice Community Education and Mobilisation unit manager.

“Gender-based violence is not a priority in the taxi industry. We see a lot of incidents of gender-based violence in the taxis, buses and trains but no functional mechanisms are in place to deal with these issues.

“Transport bodies must be able to monitor how people are dealt with in this space. The train delays put the lives of women and children in danger.

“People working in the taxi industry are also not equipped to deal with gender-based violence and there is a lack of policies guiding people on how to do so,” said Skosana.

In 2016, the non-profit organisation Sonke Gender Justice, in partnership with the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco), launched the Safe Ride campaign to deal with gender-based violence in the taxi industry.

In the memorandum, Santaco president Phillip Taaibosch committed to making sure that the campaign ran smoothly within the industry.

Reflecting on the campaign, Skosana said there have been some successes but major challenges as well.

“We need to engage more with leaders in the transport industry and with government entities to relook policies that will better deal with gender-based violence in the transport industry.”

For the Gautrain commuters, their experiences are no different.

“Gautrain stations are fast becoming hubs of kidnapping and robbery. Oftentimes when you need an Uber you have to walk 10 minutes to 15 minutes to a pick-up point. These trails are often in the dark, unsafe areas with no security,” said Skosana.

Gautrain spokesperson Kesagee Nayager said they did not have jurisdiction outside of the station precincts and that they advised passengers to be cautious of their surroundings.

“We urge customers to report suspicious activities to the police and the relevant authorities. We, likewise, do the same,” said Nayager.

When asked about sexual harassment guidelines at the Gautrain stations, Nayager said that the victims should report such matters to the SA Police Service.

She said they worked closely with all the stakeholders to ensure that perpetrators were apprehended.

Nayager added that Gautrain had provided security outside the Rhodesfield station in Kempton Park due to the crime prevalence in the area.

“Safety and security are top priorities at Gautrain. We have about 1 000 CCTV cameras installed across the Gautrain service.

“We have a customer care contact centre that operates during business hours and [digital] platforms such as LiveChat to enable passengers to engage us in real-time as and when the need may arise and security are trained to be observant and intervene.”

However, despite all the measures put in place, commuters have expressed concern over areas such as Park Station, especially when commuting at night.

“Once you leave the Gautrain station, you fear for your life. You’re on your own,” said one commuter.

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November 10 2019