Taxi safety is not just about the journey

Ask any woman taking public transport to describe the scariest parts of her journey and it would not be unexpected for her to mention dark alleys, taxi ranks (overcrowded or empty at night) and no closed-circuit television, security guards and visible policing.

At a time when women are being attacked inside public transport, it is also worth considering how they have to run the gauntlet to get there.

Then we need to ask what city officials can do to ensure infrastructure provision includes public safety peace of mind for those who have no choice but to use a bus, train or taxi to move around.

We need safe public spaces where women do not have to risk their lives to get to and from work in the early hours of the morning or late at night.

We know that crime, and the fear of it, affects social development by inhibiting the free movement of people, especially women. 

Two weeks ago, civil society organisations met the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) at a Soul City Institute for Social Justice panel discussion and called for an urgent and effective government response to provide safer commuting for women.

Our call was in response to recent attacks on women using public transport, including the rape of a mother in a Gauteng taxi on the West Rand.

For many, taxi safety starts even before women and girls board the vehicle. It includes whether we feel safe on the way to the taxi stop, at the taxi rank and when we alight. For the women at the safe taxi discussion, concerns included security at the taxi ranks, proper checks on drivers and well-trained queue marshals.

Civil society members recorded various incidents of verbal abuse, physical violence, sexual assault and rape of girls and women at the hands of taxi drivers. Who can forget when women were attacked at the Noord Street taxi rank because of their choice of clothing?

There is a long list of cases in the country that have not been finalised. Slow justice is exacerbated when women do not know what they can do to protect themselves or where they can go to report such crimes.

We need a comprehensive plan to reduce gender-based violence in our public transport system. The Soul City Institute for Social Justice is calling for concrete interventions that includes a national safe taxi charter for the industry.

We believe everyone — the private (including the taxi industry), public and civil society sectors — should contribute to drawing up such a charter so that we can set practical guidelines to create a public commitment to safe public transport. 

No woman should be verbally abused, harassed, assaulted or raped when she uses public transport. It doesn’t matter whether she’s wearing a mini skirt or travelling at midnight — women should be guaranteed safety.

Women are saying they want real changes. We want communities to stand up and fight this scourge and we want government to take urgent action

Civil society has a critical role to place in highlighting areas of need, monitoring government action and commitment and rallying supporters to take action.

Take, for example, the work being done by Safecity in India. Safecity is a platform that crowdsources personal stories of sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces. Women are able to report such incidents anonymously, before the data is aggregated and mapped to indicate trends at local level. The mapping allows the organisation to call on local authorities at various hotspots. Since its launch in 2012, Safecity has collected more than 10 000 stories from over 50 cities in India, Nepal and Kenya. It has used this data to effect real change with targeted interventions.

We must seek similar opportunities in our own spaces and we must bring together a diverse range of stakeholders to do so.

The taxi industry — particularly drivers and owners — most play an active role in ending gender-based violence in and near their vehicles.

Unsafe cities contribute to a poor quality of life. Unsafe transport limits our ability to work, socialise, educate ourselves and support our communities.

We must build cities and transport systems that will reduce crime and enable our communities in their quest for growth.

Matokgo Makutoane is advocacy manager at Soul City Institute of Social Justice. Follow her on twitter @ndumakutoane.

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