NAIROBI – The majority of female passengers on public transport in Kenya say they have been harassed, with abuses ranging from derogatory comments to rape, but few report the abuse, according to a survey published on Wednesday.
Some 54 percent of almost 400 women interviewed by Kenyan advocacy group Women’s Empowerment Link (WEL) said they had experienced gender based violence, defined as physical, sexual or psychological harm, while using public transport.
“(Respondents) witnessed female passengers being stripped naked … but the female survivors neither received any help nor reported the violation,” WEL said in a report of the survey.
“Most passengers, both male and female, uphold a culture of silence and do not intervene.”
Videos of men stripping and assaulting women in buses for wearing clothing regarded as immodest went viral online in 2014, leading to a protest demonstration in the capital, Nairobi.
Although Kenya has strong legislation protecting women against violence, prosecutions are rare. Respondents said insults were the most common form of abuse that women experience while using public transport, followed by being forced to board vehicles against their wishes and indecent touching.
“If you refuse to get into the matatus (minibuses), they either insult you or throw bad words about how you look and your body,” said director of WEL, Grace Mbugua, describing how one tout picked up a woman who was walking by and carried her inside his minibus.
Drunkenness among transport workers contributes to the problem, Senator Beatrice Elachi, a former matatu owner and women’s rights advocate, said at the launch of the survey.
“We need to deal with the alcohol,” she said. “Very early in the morning, young people are already drunk. Yet they are the ones now to usher you into the matatus. You even find drivers, some of them, drunk.”
Touts often touch women’s backsides as they push them into vehicles, pretending to help them get on board, according to the survey.
Young girls are particularly vulnerable
“(Motorbike taxi) operators often drop the girls further from their intended destinations or in secluded areas so as to try and secure sexual favours from them,” the report said.
One motorbike taxi driver who was HIV positive was arrested after respondents said he had got several underage schoolgirls pregnant, Mbugua said.
More than six out of ten respondents said they knew someone who had been abused, but only 13 percent of victims reported the attack.
“More women should join the public transport sector,” said Mbugua. “There would be a shift in how women are treated.”