Interviewing taxi drivers at Bree taxi rank in Johannesburg about sexual harassment was heartbreaking. A reasonable number of them, some who didn’t want to be interviewed, felt women brought sexual harassment to themselves.
“For taxis to be safe for women, women should stop hitchhiking. Sometimes it’s women’s fault. A woman will come take the front seat, and you see her pulling her short dress up to a point where a man starts to think of the wrong things. Whereas if she was dressed properly, nothing would have happened. Sometimes there’s no man who just rapes a woman out of the blue. There’s something a woman does leading to her being raped,” said a driver called Sandile Memela, adding that he does not care what women wear. “My job is to keep my eyes on the road and ensure they get to their destinations safely.”
Going beyond hashtags
Doing the interviews made me realise that hashtags are great for raising awareness, and starting a conversation, but most of the drivers I talked to on Twitter and Facebook. This means they miss the conversations and all the cries from women (and some men) about sexual harassment.
Men need to unlearn
Growing up in a society that taught me I was entitled to a woman’s body, I had to do a lot of unlearning. And social media played a huge role in shaping how I view sexual harassment and patriarchy, among other ills. So, I believe there needs to be conversations that involve the ordinary man on the street, who doesn’t have the luxury to sift through hashtags and learn and unlearn the innate problematic ways that come with being a man. But concepts as simple as realising that a woman has the right to wear whatever she feels like are still hard to understand. Skhumbuzo Ndlovu’s response made me cringe. “We must think about our futures and our families,” he said. “If I ever do something unlawful, and end up in prison, my kids are affected. And I’m also tainting the image of the taxi industry.”
However, not all taxi drivers I spoke to believes that making taxis safer is about policing what women wear or telling them that they shouldn’t travel at night. It was refreshing to hear some taxi drivers understand that a woman can wear whatever she likes. “It’s just immorality. It’s all about dignity. A woman must dress how she likes,” said Armstrong Majola. The contradictions in the interviewees’ responses showed little to no understanding of rape culture in South Africa. It shows that people – especially men – need to be educated, and made aware of their privileges.
Hashtags are great and have helped some of us get it, but what about what about those who aren’t on Twitter or Facebook?
This article is part of the #Safetaxisnow campaign by the the Soul City Institute for Justice. Join the call to make taxis safer here.