Public transport: A sexual harassment hotspot in the city

Monday September 21 2020


By Salome Gregory

It’s 5.30pm at the Tandika market bus station in Dar es Salaam. The market station is jam-packed with people as they commute to and fro the market. Majority are using the daladalas to travel back to their destinations.

Yawning school-children, mothers with babies on their backs neatly tucked in their khangas, stony-faced workers and touting youngsters all jostle for space in the rush-hour crush.
Whether seated or on their feet, tired commuters overcrowd the mini-bus while a man in the khaki uniform jangling a set of coins still calls in for more passengers. The environment inside the daladala is chaotic, hot and stifling. With this situation, a lot of vice happen on the public transport.
Safety plays an important role for women when it comes to ensuring comfortable, decent and enjoyable commute. One major challenge that women face and have been silent about for a long time now is sexual harassment on public transport.
Many women commuters face unwelcomed and unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature that creates a hostile or offensive environment on the public transport for them.

Jesca’s story
Jesca Mathias, 27, was sexually abused in a crowded public bus while in Mwanza about a year ago. She recalls the morning when she was on her way to a work training. Despite observing the fact that the bus was crowded, she had to step in the bus because of rush-hour traffic and to reach her training on time.
“The people on the bus were packed to the point it was not easy to move while standing. A male straphanger behind me was also struggling to cling for support on the bar.  I was a little uncomfortable, but I gave him a benefit of doubt that he was just trying to cling for support as it was a crowded bus,” Jesca recalls.
What happened after three hours in the bus is something Jesca describes as horrific and disturbing.

“I realised that the man had ejaculated and soiled my skirt. When I felt the wet substance, I looked back and realised his trouser was unzipped and it was clear to me what had just happened,” says Jesca.
Jesca with the support of other passengers asked the bus driver to stop so that she could get on to another bus and make her way back to her place to change. But what Jesca failed to do is report the man to the police, a reality many women let it go.
Juma Ismail, 38, a bus driver, whose route is Tandika to Ubungo via Mandela Road, says that in his eight years as a bus driver he has gone through more than six cases of women being sexually harassed by the men in the bus he drives.
Adding to that, he says among those cases, only one case was reported to the police as the women who were harassed pushed him to drive the bus to the police station. He doesn’t know how the case ended as he left the police station after dropping off the woman and the suspect.
Mainda Ismail, 30, is another victim of sexual harassment on public transport.  She faced this a week ago when she was commuting from Mbagala to Ubungo. That day as Mainda recalls, the bus was overcrowded and a young man was rubbing himself against Mainda’s back which was fully covered in hijab. “I felt his erection. I turned towards him immediately and shouted at him to stop. Because of embarrassment, he got down at the next station. Many women in the bus supported and encouraged me to report him to a police station, but the bus conductor took off,” Mainda recalls.

Punishable by law
Sexual harassment is considered a form of discrimination and it is prohibited by law under Tanzania’s Penal Code. The perpetrator may be imprisoned for a term up to five years or liable to a fine up to two hundred thousand shillings or to both, and may also be ordered to pay compensation to the victim as determined by the Court.
Unwelcome sexual advances by words or actions used by a person in authority, on a public transport or any other place, constitutes the offence of sexual harassment. No prosecution for an offence can be instituted or continued where the complaint is made by the alleged victim at any time more than sixty days after the occurrence of the event constituting the offence.
Police spokesperson ACP David Misime encourages women who are sexually harassed on public transport to come forward and report the matter and the perpetrator to the police immediately. “I can’t recall when exactly the last time we received such a case. I acknowledge the problem exists and hence I call upon the citizens, especially men, to be good citizens and respect women as a way to maintain peace and ethics in our communities,” Mr Misime says.

Psychologist’s take
According to several researches, boys are raised to think that men should be the initiators of sexual relationships, and boys are also socialised to be more aggressive.
Josephine Tesha, a psychologist based in Dar es Salaam, says men, who think that it is fine to touch, abuse women without their consent, have their brains affected by either over masturbating or pornography.
Ms Tesha explains that with the given reasons such men find it very difficult to control part of their brain even in public transport. They think they will be able to achieve an orgasm without being noticed. For some men it works.
“The habit [sexually harassing a woman] is not accepted in the society. Men with such challenges are advised to work on their sexual lives by getting a partner and train their brains not to consider pornography as the only way to satisfy their sexual desires,” says Ms Tesha.
Perhaps the problem, then, is not in “masculine psychology,” but in environments that allow the least scrupulous men to act on their most hideous impulses.

What the men say
Justin Ulimboka, 38, a resident of Dar es Salaam and a regular commuter on public transport, says he does not support men harassing women sexually but he is also victim-blaming by lashing out at victim’s choice of attire.
Mr Ulimboka justifies that many times, men get propagated by how women dress.  “Women choose to wear dresses and tops that do not cover their entire breasts, for this men aren’t able to resist temptations. Women have to stop tempting men on the public transport,” he says.
Pastor Aidan Mbulininge of the St Peters Church in Dar es Salaam is of the same belief. He calls upon women to dress decently as a way of stopping unnecessary inconveniences in public and setting bad examples in the society. Teachers, parents and religious leaders should work together and continue to educate our society on the importance of dressing well.
Pastor Mbulininge also believes that marriage is one of the solutions to eradicate sexual harassment. He advises people to marry for them to be able to satisfy their sexual needs.
 “I want to believe a big number of men who are harassing women in the buses are not married.  Marriage allows people to become intimate any time they feel like. This relaxes the brain of a man and avoids all unnecessary harassment in the public transport,” adds Mbulininge.
Women rights activists globally condemn men’s victim-blaming and that clothing doesn’t offer any justification for sexual violence. A victim’s choice of attire is not a mitigating factor in rape or sexual harassment cases and should be removed altogether from admissible evidence and thought-process.
In interviews with 114 convicted rapists, published in, researchers found that 13 per cent of the sexual harassers tried to justify their actions and denigrate their victims by invoking the stereotype that women instigate or precipitate rape by the way they dress.
“Perpetuating the stereotype that women ‘ask for it’ by how they dress seeks to mitigate the responsibility of the abuser and make a woman complicit in her own sexual assault based on what she chose to wear,” the article further noted.

The Director General for Land Transport Regulatory Authority (LATRA), Mr Gilliard Ngewe, acknowledges the fact that there are a lot of challenges commuters face on public transports, including the problem of sexual harassment and over-crowding that affect the well-being of users.  
“Globally, there is no commuter policy that talks about level seat. The bus transport is only aimed at short routes, leaving space for few straphangers who can cling onto the iron bars,” Mr Ngewe explains.
Mr Ngewe further explains that the National Transport policy of 2003 has identified the gaps in the policy and amendments are being done by the government currently. Health, sexual harassment and even stealing are among the challenges people are facing in their daily lives, Mr Ngewe tells.
“It is not easy to avoid challenges, which come with public transport but we are calling upon investors to buy more buses with high capacity to carry more passengers and help address such challenges,” says Mr Ngewe.
Adding to that, he says bus drivers and conductors need to be certified to make sure they help liaise with their passengers on how to behave while on public transport.

Learning from other countries
International evidence suggests that the most effective interventions on public transport adopt a combination of different approaches. A 2018 report by the humanitarian NGO Plan International found that sexual harassment is the number-one safety risk facing girls and young women across the world, with Lima, Peru, considered the most dangerous city of those surveyed for women to use public transport. The Guardian UK reports the following initiatives by different countries to mitigate this problem:
• My is part of Plan International’s youth media project and has created four comic books dealing with the subject of harassment on buses, to be distributed at bus stops and ticket offices.
• The organisation Hollaback! was created in 2005 in response to a photo snapped by a woman of a man who masturbated in front of her. A blog was started encouraging all women to ‘holla back’ at street harassers by taking cell phone pictures and posting them online.
• In Mexico City – the #NoEsDeHombres (This Is Not What Being a Man Is About) campaign uses stunts to highlight situations commonly experienced by women on public transport.
• In Bangkok, the Theung Wela Pheuk (“Time to Intervene”) initiative is predicated on the belief that bystanders can prevent or deter harassment if they make a timely intervention.