Sexual harassment: The high cost of being a woman on a bus

Women commuting in overcrowded ZUPCO buses are exposed to the threat of being molested by uncouth men

The buses are crowded as would be expected, the driver started packing us in the aisle as he tries to have as many passengers on the. We were so close that you could barely move and surrounded by men only, I felt someone touching me, I was pissed off and I reprimanded the unknown person.

Men on the bus started shouting at me, saying if I don’t want to be touched in a bus I must go buy myself a car. I lost all the courage, felt ashamed and get off the bus and sacrificed my $10 and I went home using a kombi.

This is the story of 30-year old Harare commuter, Chipo.

The re-launch of the conventional bus system came as a gift, but that gift came at a cost – women commuting in overcrowded buses that pose a threat to women being molested by uncouth men.

Zupco passengers say much of the bus’ popularity stems from the low fares, which provide some financial respite for a population struggling to make ends meet as inflation continues to shoot through the roof and basic commodity prices skyrocketing.

Mischievous men, some of whom are drivers and conductors have taken advantage of the transport crisis to engage in relationships or molest women who board the ZUPCO buses. The chances of being indecently assaulted are high during the morning and evening peak periods.

“Female passengers have long been subjected to inappropriate touches, lewd gestures, a sense of powerlessness, but with so many people using the Zupco system, the harassment has become more aggressive and invasive. It has become too much, but these buses are the cheapest, hence we have no other option, we just have to brave it,” explained Tariro Game as she stood in a long queue to board a Zupco bus.

“The buses are overcrowded as they are affordable, but there are creeps who ride the buses to fondle women you just feel a hand feeling you up and then disappearing,” said Chipo.

Women in Zimbabwe said they are often reluctant to report harassment for fear of not being taken seriously. There is an overall sense that it is not worth reporting such incidents because it is a complicated procedure that almost never produces results.

“There must be the training of the police on how to deal with cases of public violence against women… as a way of instilling confidence in the victims,” said a passenger, Maud Madyaa.

“Because to go to the police is to risk being ridiculed for reporting a petty crime with no known perpetrator, it’s difficult as it is to report rape, imagine trying to report being fondled by a hand you did not see,” she said.

Commuters are urging the council to improve infrastructure and ensure that there is more security at the bus terminus for commuters’ safety.

They also suggested on development of mobile apps that enable commuters to report whenever they are harassed and also that the government should look at introducing buses which will be specifically meant for women and children to avoid cases of harassment.

Council spokesperson, Micheal Chideme said the council is working on improving the infrastructure at the bus termini to ensure the safety of the commuters.

Zupco’s CEO Everisto Madangwa said there were security measures taken, including assigning at least three inspectors at every destination and a police officer to each bus, “to ensure passenger comfort and safety”.

Madangwa declined to directly respond to the accusations of sexual harassment on the company’s buses, but said the government regularly adds to the fleet to both meet demand and decrease congestion on the buses.

At the time of the re-launch of the bus system, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said Zupco was part of the modernisation of the national transport system and assured the nation that there would be “adequate security” to protect passengers.

Ends//

By Rutendo Bamu

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