PROFESSOR SINEGUGU DUMA Dean of Teaching and Learning at UKZ’s College of Health of Sciences

Taxis can turn it around

SOUTH African women and girls are under attack. They experience gender-based violence almost any day,
any time and everywhere. This could be in their homes, in the workplace and even in public transport stations
such as taxi ranks as they commute to and from home for social or economic purposes. This country needs everyday activism for the protection of women and girls against all forms of gender-based violence perpetrated by men, both in private and public spaces.

The veil of gender-based violence experienced by women and girls in their private spaces and at the hands
of men intimately known to them has finally been raised, thanks to campaigns such as the annual 16 Days
of Activism against Gender-Based Violence and other similar public awareness campaigns towards ending
gender-based violence nationally and internationally.

However, gender-based violence experienced by women and girls at taxi ranks and other open and public
spaces remains an untouched topic. Perhaps this is because violence against women and girls is deeply rooted in
gender norms that promote misogyny, rape culture and men’s control over women, among the majority of traditional men as perpetrators of most gender-based violence experienced in such open and public spaces.

As a country, we come from a culture where young women and girls are taught how to protect themselves from
men’s perpetration of gender-based violence instead of teaching young men how to respect women and not
to violate them, whether in private or public spaces. Many South African women and girls rely on public transport for their daily social and economic development. They spend most of their time at taxi ranks, waiting for their transport, so one would expect the taxi ranks to be safe havens for women and girls as commuters. One would expect
that those who witness any form of violence perpetrated against women and girls as commuters will reprimand
the perpetrator of such violence and protect women and girls from such victimisation, but that is not always
the case.

Instead of helping the victim of gender-based violence and sexual harassment, the latest trend is that those witnessing the incidents of violence-perpetration either do nothing or prefer to make video recordings of
the incident. You would swear that they have become journalists and want to document the evidence, or they want to
be like journalists who always look for opportunities to be the first one to document history as it happens.
Such “documented evidence” is usually not even made available to assist the victim in reporting the case
to the police but rather used to humiliate her further by spreading it on social media. This is yet another subtle
form of gender-based violence against women and girls, known as cyberbullying, which needs special attention. Not
doing anything to rescue the victim of violence is common and has been referred to as bystander apathy.

Bystander apathy and cyberbullying is the worse betrayal inflicted on the victim of gender-based violence
by those witnessing gender-based violence perpetrated against women and girls, who are expected to help
or support them. Research shows that community support has an influence in recovery from gender-based violence and that lack of such community support during the time of need can negatively affect the victim’s journey
towards recovery.

This country needs more than the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign; it
needs everyday activism against gender-based violence to eliminate gender-based violence and sexual harassment experienced by women at taxi ranks. Everyday activism requires that each and every one of us plays a role
in the elimination of gender-based violence against women and girls.

Everyday activism entails using every opportunity to resist rape culture, to resist cyberbullying of victims
of gender-based violence by posting their experiences on social media. It also entails speaking up to challenge
any taxi driver whose vehicle displays posters that are sexist, promote gender-based violence and are demeaning
to women and girls. To eliminate gender-based violence in both private and public spaces, there are no “one-size-fits-all” interventions. Instead, we need to develop contextual and culturally appropriate gender-based violence prevention interventions that are targeted to specific groups or settings. For taxi ranks and taxi drivers, we need to develop prevention interventions that aim to disrupt the core roots of gender-based violence and sexual harassment in taxi ranks by forming and maintaining active partnerships with taxi drivers.

The taxi drivers, by virtue of their constant presence and dominance on taxi ranks, are considered to be the
custodians of safety at taxi ranks. The effectiveness of gender-based violence prevention interventions
in taxi ranks would require assisting taxi drivers in obtaining the right set of skills, including (i) knowledge
and respect of women’s rights, (ii) knowledge about how to overcome bystander apathy when they witness
the perpetration of any form of gender-based violence against women commuters and (iii) how to recognise
and dismantle all situational or environmental factors that contribute to violence against women commuters
while boarding their taxis or transiting in taxi ranks, including the display of posters or slogans that are demeaning
to women.

Recent research from the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Nursing and Public Health reported
that taxi drivers, as men hold firm cultural attitudes and gender norms that promote male control over women
(Mchunu, Naidoo & Ncama, 2020). Therefore, we need to have an open and non-confrontational dialogue to
address these firmly-held cultural attitudes with taxi drivers to help them understand and acknowledge women
commuters’ rights as equal human beings. Accepting that women have rights as equal citizens may influence
how taxi drivers respond to any acts of violence perpetrated against women commuters as equal citizens.
This requires helping taxi drivers acknowledge the importance of their role as custodians of the safety of all
commuters in taxi ranks and onboard their vehicles. Once there is overall acceptance of this role, it would be
easy to extend the role and responsibility towards the protection of women commuters against any form of victimisation perpetrated in the presence of taxi drivers.

A number of minibus taxis display posters and slogans which showcase the sexual prowess and male dominance of their owners. Some of these posters and slogans are derogatory and have sexual connotations, which are
often demeaning to women and girls. Helping taxi drivers learn to display positive and unifying posters as
decorations and adverts may help in dismantling all situational and environmental factors that contribute to
disrespecting and objectifying women commuters as sexual objects.

We all have a role to make and keep our taxi ranks safe and free from gender-based violence. Participatory
action research is needed to develop sustainable behaviours for taxi men as partners in the prevention of gender-based violence and sexual harassment at taxi ranks.