In pursuance of the creation, promotion of safe spaces for women and girls, ActionAid Zimbabwe (AAZ) and the Passenger Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) held a Safe Cities Dialogue platform on the 29th November 2018 in Harare. Community members met with public transport operators and other duty bearers to discuss the situation of public transport and the violence women experience on public transport and bus termini. The dialogue was aimed at preventing and responding to violence against women in public transport under the AAZ and PAZ Safe Cities Campaign in Chitungwiza entitled “Promoting safe, quality, reliable and accessible public transportation sensitive and responsive to women and girls’ needs”.
The Safe Cities dialogue platform was also held in line with the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence theme for 2018 which is “End Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work: Creating a zero tolerance to sexual harassment in the workplace” The dialogue ran under the hashtag #safepublictransport with key messages to end Violence against women and girls in public transport because women and girls have the right to board any commuter omnibus of their choice without being heckled. In attendance were the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, the Chitungwiza Residents Association, the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the Chitungwiza Commuter Operators Association, and Youth Alliance for Safer Cities, Activista Zimbabwe Harare Provincial Chapter and the Dialogue on Shelter (Safe and Inclusive Cities). In solidarity, members present shared, insights and experiences as they advocated for zero tolerance to violence against women in public transport.
Violence against women in public transport is rife in Zimbabwe and people have died at the hands of touts as they try to board public transport. Women and girls have been affected more. The Safe Cities Campaign seeks to empower women working in the informal sector, particularly doing vending who rely on public transport for their businesses. The most common types of violence noted in public transport include harassment in commuter omnibuses, name calling and passing on of derogatory and demeaning sexual comments such as “amai munodonhedza musika”. Other notable abuses include, touts forcing passengers, especially women and children into their commuter omnibuses while snatching their bags, pushing and shoving them in the process. Recently a Chitungwiza woman gave birth while in in moving commuter omnibus due to induced labour caused by over speeding while a girl was sexually assaulted while on board.
Betty Sithole the AAZ Programme and Policy Manager for Women’s rights said: “Women’s rights are at the center of ActionAid’s work as women are disproportionately affected by all social ills and violence against women is one of the issues ActionAid is working on.” In her solidarity speech, The Activista Harare Provincial Coordinator Sheryl Tendai Chigwedere re-affirmed the Activista youth movement’s unwavering commitment to actively engage in solidarity in the fight for safe public spaces for women. The Zimbabwe Gender Commission Chief Executive Officer Virginia Muwanigwa said gave a stern warning that name-calling, passing derogatory remarks to women especially young women, about their structure or dressing is harassment, illegal and must be reported to the responsible authorities. Mrs. Muwanigwa said women should not normalize the abnormal but should find voice and speak against such abnormalities like accepting ‘uncomfortable sitting arrangement where male and female passengers sit facing each other with their legs intertwined, encroaching into the zones of intimate space as this is a form of sexual harassment that should not be normalized. She urged communities to embrace social media to help fight GBV, saying that citizen journalism can be harnessed to expose cases of GBV because the scourge thrives because of silence.
The Passenger Association President Tafadzwa Goliati bemoaned the disorder at commuter omnibuses termini and the chaos that perpetuates violence against women and girls. Moses Matimbe the Chitungwiza Commuter Operators Association representative and former tout who is now a commuter omnibus owner castigated commuters for preferring mushika shika (undesignated loading areas) because in most cases the commuter omnibuses loading at these mushikashikas are unlicensed and illegal.
Suprintendent Enock Chishiri from the Zimbabwe Republic Police Public Relations Department said people always say the police do not do their work while people are not using the police to end violence against women. Superintendent Chishiri affirmed the police’s commitment to the promotion of safe spaces for women and girls in the public.
In a petition the communities of Chitungwiza made the following demands to duty bearers: Removal of all touts from all bus termini. The police must ensure that all commuter omnibuses are registered; no commuter omnibuses should be allowed to operate without proper registration papers. The Police should ensure that commuter operators stick to the stipulated carrying capacity and stop overloading commuter omnibuses as this puts the life of commuters at risk in case of an accident. The police to ensure that commuter omnibuses do not over speed and government to serve stiff penalties on offenders.