Since 2013, Flone Initiative has been working to create safe commuter spaces and professionalism in the public transport industry in Kenya. To advance this mission, I was among the lead organizers of the #MyDressMyChoice protest that highlighted the sexual violence meted on women in the Kenyan public transport industry.  The protest was organized in an attempt to stop the increased number of cases of stripping of women and girls in public transport vehicles and terminals. The Githurai 44 sexual assault and stripping is one of the incidents that fueled the protest.

On July 19th 2017, the three men charged with robbery with violence, stripping and sexually assaulting a female passenger in a Githurai bound bus were sentenced to death. This incident happened on the night of September 19 and 20 at the Millennium petrol station in Githurai 44. The accused video recorded the incidence and the video subsequently went viral, sparking outrage. This is one of the two landmark cases in court involving the sexually assault and robbery with violence of women in the public transport industry. The other case being held in Makadara law court involves a woman hawker who was robbed, stripped and sexually assaulted in Kayole.

No executions have been carried out in Kenya since 1987, when Hezekiah Ochuka and Pancras Oteyo Okumu were hanged for treason. In 2009, Kenya commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment, impacting over 4000 death row inmates. Despite the lack of executions, death sentences are still passed in Kenya.

I believe that life is precious. Hence, I feel uncomfortable with the possibility of loss of life. However, I can not ignore the heinous acts that the accused committed, the scars and trauma that the victim has to live with and the dangers that the accused pose to public transport users (especially women who make up majority of public transport users).

Public silence and judicial inertia have ensured that rates of violence against women are often vastly under-reported and that offenders often go unpunished. This ruling changes the norm and, as such, plays an important symbolic role, by indicating that such behavior is socially unacceptable and will not go unpunished. This sentence serves a deterrence function to perpetrators and encourage victims to report. I commend the judicial system for being responsive to the victim by providing protection and handling the case with appropriate sensitivity. The ruling may be appealed but it is our hope that the judicial system will not falter. We look forward to a similar ruling in the Kayole case. As the magistrate noted, “What you (the accused) thought was a joke should not be taken lightly, as a woman’s privacy and decency should be respected at all times.” This ruling is the strong message needed to criminalize violence against women and reaffirm the rights of women to live free of violence in public spaces, especially the transport industry, which has been plagued with various forms of violence against women.

I feel honoured to have supported the cause and, most importantly, to see justice in my lifetime.

As the rule of law takes it’s course, Flone Initiative will continue addressing the underlying norms and behaviours associated with violence against women in the transport system by training PSV operators on customer service, prevention of sexual violence and professional development, as well as working to increase the number of women employed in the industry.

Let’s make a toast: To Justice! It’s been over three years of waiting but it’s been worth the wait. Cheers!

Sending a life free of violence and love your way,

Naomi Mwaura

Founding Director, Flone Initiative.

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Indonesian Women only commuter train in Jakarta: Image by The Telegraph

Author: Mary  Mwangi, Flone Initiative program manager.

Recently, there has been ongoing discussions on women only mode of transport in several cities and countries across the world. This discussion made me ask, will female only transport system be a solution to sexual harassment in public spaces?

Although may tend to believe that it will, I tend to differ.  I feel that introduction of female only transport systems will only create a new form of gender inequality.  I feel it is high time we worked on strategies to ensure that men and women co-exist peacefully and respectively regardless of their sex. We may come up with female only transport system but will that stop sexual harassment or only postpone it to when we alight from the matatu, plane or the bus?

In some countries, Airport authorities thought setting up female-only checkpoints was a good way to promote efficiency and enhance privacy of female passengers. They argue it safeguards privacy and avoids embarrassing female travelers when their luggage items are being checked by a male staff. I feel that all this goes against gender equality and is a form of sex-based discrimination and the airports authorities are placing more importance on efficiency than equality.

It is very important to develop better transport facilities that care for the safety and comfort of women and girls, pregnant women and children. But we also need to come up with initiative that train men to be protectors of women, girls and children instead of being their worst nightmare. Additionally, by developing female only transport system we may be assuming that all men are dangerous and in the process separate a father from her daughter in a vehicle or a train, or a wife and her husband, this is just but a few example.  I undoubtedly support sex segregation in bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and similar spaces, based on a need for privacy.

Therefore, I suggest instead of introducing women-only carriages we ought to develop city systems that are conducive to the cultivation of respect amongst the public towards women and girls by increasing social civilization and humanitarian care.

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By: Mary Mwangi – Program Manager, Flone Initiative

I have always wondered why there are very few women in the transport industry, until I attended a Women in Transportation (WIT) Forum organized by Flone Initiative. During which PSV female operators shared their day to day experiences.

As I listened in keenly, I learnt that women really face a difficult time in this sector. As a result some are forced to give up within a few days and others after a few weeks. Each narrated their experiences and how they have to cope with the long working hours, harassment by the police, city council askaris, passengers and fellow crew, crude comments and stigmatization from friends and relatives to name but a few.

One lady said that no one at home knows exactly what she does for a living since working as a PSV conductor is believed to be the work of ladies with loose morals. Another interjected and said that she lost her husband and children after her in laws learnt that she was a PSV bus conductor. Sadly, some are even considered the rejects of the society and can never be involved in serious social development activities.

As I kept on listening I learnt that most of these ladies are very proud of their work in spite of the negative attitude that surrounds them on a daily basis. To some this is work like no other and has quite good returns on a good day. The ladies are able to take care of their families needs through their job as PSV drivers and conductors.

I wish to urge all of us who commute in PSV vehicles to acknowledge the work that this iron ladies do. Most of us can never stomach what they go through everyday but they continue to wake up every day and head to work. It is because of them that most of us are able to get to our “decent jobs”. It is high time that we treated them with the respect that they deserve and maybe then, they will also appreciate their work and enjoy it even more.

Additionally, not all of them are crude, uncultured and hostile; this is a cover they are forced to put on to survive in their industry. During my interaction with them, I have learnt they are great individuals with great hearts and great dreams in life, but as they say a lady got to do what a lady got to do.

I wish to give each of us a challenge, is it possible to appreciate them and the work they do each time we come across one. I believe it is up to each of us to make the Matatu Industry in Kenya better. I always imagine a situation where all of us will feel safe to leave our personal vehicles at home to use PSV vehicles due to their safety, affordability and convenience. Then, traffic jams would be a thing of the past, and this is my dream.

I wish to salute all PSV operators for your work!

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This article appeared as a Guest blog post on StopStreetHarassment website and What’s Good Network.

Author: Mary  Mwangi, Flone Initiative program manager.  

A few weeks ago,  I was conducting interviews on sexual harassment in public spaces and it is frightening to note that almost all of the interviewees believe that it is a woman’s way of dressing that influences street harassment and violence. 

Women have been harassed while wearing skirts, hijabs, dresses and trousers, this goes to show that street harassment and violence is NOT about dressing. It is important for us to call a spade a spade and not lay blame on dressing but to strongly condemn those who perpetrate such violence on our streets.

Today, some may think that since we have not heard the news of stripping of women and girls in public spaces that the vice is dead. Sadly, this is not the case as many women continue to face harassment every single day but due to fear of victimization by the perpetrators opt to be silent.

I sturdily feel that the root cause of all form of violence and prejudice between men and women stems from a patriarchal mind-setSome individuals have expressed concerns that the media and westernization fosters a society that devalues women. But again, don’t you think this is misplaced blame? The media only represents women as the society sees them.

Unless we realize that patriarchal attitudes and beliefs cause a lot of harm than good, then a culture of fear will continue. We all need to take up the bull by the horns and work together to fight the vice of street harassment and violence. It is important to note that it isn’t only men who perpetuate patriarchy, women do it too. It is high time that we all worked as a team, as family and as a community since we now know better.

It is high time that we all encouraged sensitization and behavior change initiatives that allow and emphasize discussion on sexual harassment, patriarchy and the need to respect all genders. At Flone Initiative, we believe above being men and women, we are human beings. Yes, we are different, but respecting and celebrating our uniqueness is a goal we are working on. All we need to do is learn to respect each other. It is only then that our women and girls will walk along the streets without fear of being harassed, violated, raped or assaulted but with the assurance of safety, security and freedom.

Join our social media campaign as we advocate for safer streets.

#EndStreetHarassmentWeek

#EndSH

#MyDressMyChoice

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Flone Initiative article on importance of hiring more women in the transport industry. (Abiria Magazine, November 2016)

Flone Initiative article on importance of hiring more women in the transport industry. (Abiria Magazine, November 2016)

Posted by FloNe Initiative on Thursday, March 23, 2017

Flone Initiative article on importance of hiring more women in the transport industry. (Abiria Magazine, November 2016)

Posted by FloNe Initiative on Thursday, March 23, 2017

 

In spite of the increased cases of sexual harassment and assault cases of women and girls in public spaces, urban and transportation planning processes are still not paying any attention to gender. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day—Be Bold For Change, should enthuse urban and transportation planning to recognize gender equity as an integral part of sustainable cities.

Unsafe and uncomfortable public transportation systems always coerce women to use private modes of transport. This is caused by the failure of urban local bodies to collect gender inclusive data while preparing their city mobility plans, thus they remain blind to women’s mobility patterns and needs.

Today, the concerns of women’s safety are summarized under public spaces. For instance, the sustainable development goal on gender seeks to “eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres”. In spite of this it is important to recognize that women and girls are still victims of violence in transportation systems—when walking and cycling or accessing public transport stops/terminals, waiting at the bus stops, terminals and railway stations, boarding and alighting buses or trains and travelling in these vehicles.

Thus the need to ensure that women’s safety concerns are considered and integrated by urban transport authorities during the planning and design of our transit systems, our streets, bus stops, railway stations, terminals, buses and trains, and existing initiatives are monitored and evaluated.

In addition it is crucial for women led organizations and urban transport planners to work together to address the physical and social aspects of gender in city planning and transportation systems.

Women are more in public spaces only as commuters but not as service providers.  According to a report by the International Labour Organization, transport is one of several sectors that have traditionally been regarded as ‘no place for women’. In 2005, 6.85% women were employed in the transportation sector in India compared to 19% men. Such disparities are evident across many countries; increased women presence at different levels in public transport authorities has the potential of mainstreaming gender within the organization, since this will ensure women’s issues are brought to the forefront during service delivery and infrastructure development.

It is in this regard that Flone Initiative is implementing the Women In Transportation Program (WIT) which seeks to close the work force gap in the transportation industry by promoting life long careers in transportation for women. The WIT program hopes to ultimately works to attract, retain and advance women in the industry by proving a forum for the exploration of technical, policy, financial, and political aspects of emerging transportation issues while affording women in the transport industry outstanding networking opportunities.

This International Women’s Day, being bold will entail recognizing women’s role in achieving sustainable transportation goals and reducing work force gaps, so that women concerns are not ignored nor treated as special cases, but as vital part of city transportation design, planning and governance.

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Walking on a Dangerous Path!

Over the last two months or so, Kenya has been dealing with a lot of issues among them being the proposed miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2016 that seeks to lower sexual consent from 18 years to 16 years.

A lot has been said about this bill, from the justifications to the rage of those who clearly say “how dare you”. Being in the democratic country that we are, we can all give our opinion, we can all shout to the top of the roof, but the bottom line is we can’t afford to lower the age.

In a country where sexual violence has been on the rise and more so defilement and rape cases what validation can there ever be? A 2010 National Survey prevalence of sexual, physical and emotional violence indicated that nearly one in three Kenyan girls experiences sexual violence before they hit 18 years. Dr Mutunga, the former Kenya Chief Justice reported that there were 6,101 cases reported 2014 and 7,727 in 2015.This are numbers and they don’t lie. FIDA Kenya in their wisdom is for the amendment and their argument includes that there is a conflict where the alleged defiler is also below 18 years.

But the question is what % of the number is a minor vs a minor?

If there were no rape, then maybe then age could be lowered hopefully with the confidence that people would respect a “no” from women or men. But that’s not the case.

A 16 year old girl is ideally in form two in the Kenya education system. Wouldn’t lowering the consent age be giving our children to the wind? The pro amendment team claims that not lowering the consent doesn’t mean that the minors aren’t engaging in sex.

But isn’t hypocritical that we want to lower the age because they will have sex anyway.  Yet,  we have continuously hide behind morals by constantly refusing to include sexual reproductive health(SRHR) rights in the school curriculum citing worry that it will increase  promiscuous behaviors.

Let’s not be blind to the reality that the defiler could be a minor yet the law binds the magistrate or the judge to make a judgment that the defiler is an adult, nor disputing the fact that some adults have manipulated their kids and the system to punish their daughter’s boyfriends. But still is this a good reason to lower the consensual age?

 

It is time we looked for seriously solutions other than condoning vices that continue to thrive in our society. What happens when we realize that 14 years olds are having sex with 14 years old? Are we going to lower the consent age again too?

A 16 years old boy or girl is still a kid. We surely can’t afford to open this Pandora box in a country where pedophiles roams on the streets and boast of their prowess on social media.

As opposed to lowering the consent, how about we do the following;

  1. Include comprehensive sex education in the school curriculum-Abstinence is not the only thing that should be taught under sex education. Having kids love who they are and embrace their sexuality is paramount.
  2. Every stakeholder to play their part. In the past, parents seem to have left the role to teachers at school and the teacher to parents at home. There is a gap that  has to be filled
  • Youth friendly space be made at school, police station and in the neighborhood. This spaces need to be equipped with information on sex and responsible childhood.

Finally Kenyans, we can’t have consensual age lowered whether we put the 3 suggestions in place or not.

 

 

 

PHOTO: courtesy of Popular resistance Organization

PHOTO: courtesy of Popular resistance Organization

Don’t just standby, Help!

Violence is an everyday occurrence, yet many keep on ignoring it and denying its existence. Lately the most common is happening in public spaces mainly against women and girls in urban and rural areas, in developed and developing countries.

Sadly, women and girls experience various types of sexual violence in public spaces, from unwanted sexual remarks and touching to rape. This occurs on the streets, in and around public transportation terminals, schools and workplaces, in public sanitation facilities, water and food distribution sites and parks.

The main victims of harassment in public spaces, in the street as well as on public transport, are young women. In Lima, 9 of every 10 women between 19 and 29 years of age has been victim to street harassment (2013). In Bogota and Mexico City, 6 out of every 10 women have experienced some sexual aggression on public transport (2014). In the case of Chile, 5 out of every 10 women between 20 and 29 years of age have declared to have experienced sexual harassment on the street (2015). This is according to Gender Equality Observatory.

It is important for every one of us to take up the role of ensuring that this statistics go down. Reducing the level of violence in society will require many more men to step up as active bystanders since most violence is committed by men, and men are more likely to listen to another man than they are to a woman. These two facts make it essential that more men get involved as active bystanders intervening to stop other men from being violent. It is also important to mobilize men with power, including government, community, and business leaders, as well as policy-makers, to think of themselves as active bystanders in the effort to end violence. Taking steps as an active bystander is often not easy, especially for men who are taking action to stop other men’s violence. It is important for men to identify ways they can support each other in their efforts to be more active bystanders.

Below are some actions we take to help stop the violence against our women and girls in public spaces.

Talk to the victim, ignore the attacker

Always engage the person in a conversation to help them feel safe and calm. Find out how they are. Hollaback says that “even a knowing look to the person being harassed can reduce their trauma and experience of isolation”.

Confront the harasser

Let the harasser know that what they are doing is wrong and you will not just stand by and do nothing.

Talk about something random

Talk to the person about a topic that will take their mind off what has just happened.

Keep building the safe space

Keep eye contact with them ignoring the attackers. Ignoring the attacker makes him feel less insignificant.

Keep the conversation going until the attacker leaves. If possible take them to a safe space

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Women like men have the right to feel safe and to live freely

Traditionally, transport industry is one of several sectors that have been regarded as ‘no place for women’. Today this is still the case in many countries across the world.

Nowadays, a few employers are becoming aware of the fact that they need the expertise and views women bring to their businesses. Sadly, most employers are still oblivious that in order to realize economic growth and social equity, businesses need both men and women involvement in decision making.

Globally, the transport industry holds great potential for women. Yes, it is an industry that is male dominated, but women bring a unique perspective to the issues facing a growing global transportation system. When women are given an equal opportunity to succeed in transportation careers they unlock new pathways for growth and profitability. Such an example is Elizabeth Marami who at only 27 years of age is the envy of many as Kenya’s first woman marine pilot.

Public transport service providers operating in today’s competitive environment can no longer afford to take no notice of women underutilized skills as employees. Integrating more women in all areas of transportation will make it easier to communicate the actual issues at hand and operators will achieve the competitive edge they seek over business rivals. Similarly, it is vital that all transport systems provide for the whole community thus operators can no longer afford to ignore the particular needs of their primary customers.

It is appropriate that women’s needs are acknowledged and considered within the overall structure of service delivery. It cannot be stressed sufficiently the importance of women, both as employees and customers of public transport. It is time for women to take the opportunity to put their views forward, to express their opinion and to make sure that they get what they want and need to make public transport better and more workable for everyone.

There are increased opportunities for women in the transport industry in operational transport, logistics and technological sectors thus the need to encourage them to join the industry. Most importantly, there is a need to make sure that women have a safe, fair and healthy working environment. This will be possible by addressing these important issues that limits women involvement in the industry. Such issues includes sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, challenges of balancing between family and work, long working hours, health and safety at work, poor facilities and informal and precarious work just to mention a few.According to International Labour Union (2013) report poor working conditions render the transport sector especially unappealing to women, most notably in relation to working time, shift-working (24/7), and the location of employment (e.g. on-board a vessel at sea, driving a truck long distances from home, or assignment to foreign airport under the multi-base crewing strategy of an international airline). The lack of attraction is reinforced by gender stereotypes – prejudices about what women can do and what men can do – that are perhaps most deeply embedded in male- dominates sectors such as transport.

Thus there is dire need to ensure that this trends change as soon as possible. In this regard, Flone initiative – a woman led organization working towards ending violence against women and girls in public spaces with a focus on the transport industry has initiated the Women in Transportation Program (WIT). WIT’s mission is to advance the transport industry and the professional women who are a growing part of it. WIT seeks to close the work force gap in the transportation industry by promoting life long careers in transportation for women. WIT ultimately works to attract, retain and advance women in the industry.

The WIT program will promote collaboration and coalition building among women professionals for policy advocacy and action, which will recognize and support women’s contribution in transportation development. Through the program Flone Initiative hopes to ensure that woman’s needs as both commuters and employees in the transport sector are secured.

Join us in making this a reality!

Your Support Counts!
Our new Women in Transportation program works to advance the transport industry and the professional women who are a growing part of it.
Good news! For our U.S.A supporters, your donation is now tax-deductible within the guidelines of U.S.A law.
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Battling Sexual Harassment in Kenyan Public Transport: The Flone Initiative: An Interview with Co-Founder Naomi Mwaura

by nairobiplanninginnovations

Sexual harassment in public transport is a global problem.  Kenya is no exception. Every day tens of thousands of women making trips in Public Service Vehicles (matatus) face unacceptable behavior from their fellow male passengers making mobility a dangerous and uncomfortable experience.

In an effort to make travel safer and more comfortable for women, one Kenyan organization, the FLONE Initiative, is combating sexual harassment on public transportation in Kenya . NPI bloggers Seth  Kerr and Jacqueline Klopp conducted an extended interview with Naomi Mwaura, a co-founder of The FLONE Initiative. Naomi not only helps combat sexual harassment through this Initiative but is also committed to helping all people in Kenya have access to equitable transportation as a dedicated staff member for the Institute for Transportation Development Policy (ITDP) which recently set up shop in Nairobi.

Here is the full interview