Taxis driving message home on gender violence

Date: January 1, 1970
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If you jump into a combi during the next couple of weeks, you may just be greeted with something a bit different from the usual fare of thumping Kwaito and house beats. Launched 4 December at Ekurhuleni Municipality, Tjoon’in is an audio CD designed specifically for playing in public transport as part of 16 Days of Activism, to raise awareness among taxi drivers and passengers about gender violence.

The CD is an entertaining mix of music, feature reports, interviews, testimonials from survivors of violence, and radio spots highlighting various 16 Days themes, particularly domestic violence, xenophobia, human trafficking, and men as partners. Produced partially during a series of workshops with transport stakeholders, Ekurhuleni councilors and survivors of violence, the CD features the energetic voices of YFM’s Dineo Lusenga and Hlayisanani “TC” Salani talking about everything from gun free zones to music and soccer, and how these all fit in with 16 Days of Peace.  
An innovative project by Gender Links (GL) in partnership with Ekurhuleni Municipality and the Gauteng Women in Transport, produced with assistance from CMFD Productions, the CD is being distributed free of charge to taxis and radio stations.  As part of the launch, Ekurhuleni Municipality will be hosting a panel discussion around gender violence in public transport.
Few will forget when in February 2008, South African media, gender organisations, and the public transport sector itself responded to reports of first one young woman, and then several, being sexually assaulted for wearing a mini skirt at the Noord Street taxi rank in busy central Johannesburg. Discussing the incident on her show, Radio 702 talk show host Redi Direko broke down and cried as she remembered the daily humiliation she suffered as a teenager taking taxis.
As the phone calls poured into radio talk shows, callers confirmed that harassment is an every day experience for South African women.  Participants at a meeting convened soon after the incident by Gauteng MEC for Community Safety Firoz Cachalia, which included taxi associations, government representatives, police services, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), unanimously condemned the violent attack as a violation of human rights and dignity.
“Tjoon’in is a tangible outcome of the challenge put by MEC Firoz Cachalia to taxi associations and NGOs to turn the Noord Street taxi rank incident into a positive force for change,” said GL Director Colleen Lowe Morna. “Taxis reach and serve millions of South Africans every day. If they can literally become a vehicle for change then we will really be going somewhere.”
The increasing awareness of the taxi industry of the need to address gender violence, especially ahead of World Cup 2010, inspired the project.  Many of the radio spots included are short dramas set in a taxi, and incorporate such issues as discrimination and disability. The Johannesburg-based organisation Gun Free, also talks about their initiative to launch taxi ranks as “gun-free zones.”
Men as partners feature strongly on the CD. Kaya FM DJ TBose offers his words of wisdom on the importance of men supporting women. “Imagine if every woman…knowing that her man, her brother, her father is supporting her. The confidence she will have is the same confidence she will teach her children.”
Gugu Mofekeng, who told her story of surviving violence in Gender Links “I” Story project and presents the Domestic Violence feature report found on the CD, echoes this sentiment. "It is reassuring to know that men are starting to be included in the fight against gender violence,” she says. “It is only by including both men and women that we can hope to curb, and one day end the violence.”
The CD also highlights xenophobia and gender violence in migrant communities. An interview with Donald Ambe of EngenderHealth shares information about how soccer can bring communities together; a sentiment shared by soccer plays interviewed who all agree – when it comes to soccer, everyone is welcome.
The need to ensure safety and address gender violence is not unique to South Africa, or to the transport sector. Women across the region, and worldwide, recount experiences of gender violence both in private and public spaces, everywhere from schools to shops, as well as public transport.
Region-wide, the taxi industry remains one of the least gender aware in the country. Men constitute the overwhelming majority in the tax industry, from drivers to owners, and heads of associations. Women experience harassment on a daily basis, yet there is no clear mechanisms for reporting. While Tjoon’in is a first step, there is a need to continually create innovative campaigns to sensitise drivers and passengers.
At the same time, there is a need for government led initiatives to hold the industry accountable, to ensure that the industry is in line with provincial and national commitments to reducing gender violence. Just this past August, leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) signed the Protocol on Gender and Development, which, among other obligations, commits governments to halving levels of gender violence by 2015.
Safety on public transport is a vital part achieving gender equality. Safe transport helps keep girls in school, and workers need public transport for employment opportunities. As such, increased attention and action to put in place strategies to protect women and girls on public transport is urgent. 
Deborah Walter is the editor of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service and coordinator of the Tjoon’in CD. This article is part of a series produced by the GL Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism

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