Women and girls bear brunt of Africa ‘transport poverty’

JOHANNESBURG (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Long queues in the rain, daily four-hour trips in a public taxi, the constant threat of road accidents, and nearly having to use a pen as a knife to fight off an aggressive male passenger.

These are just some of the challenges Busisiwe Nongauza has faced while commuting to and from her job as an insurance underwriter in Johannesburg, South Africa’s biggest city.

Nongauza, who lives in Soweto, the country’s biggest township, is not alone in her experience.

A new study shows that in Sub-Saharan Africa “transport poverty” – when inaccessible or unsuitable transport negatively impacts a person’s quality of life – disproportionately affects women and girls in terms of harassment, getting to school and accessing jobs.

“Public transport is not safe for women at all. We are powerless,” Nongauza, 48, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Transport poverty in Africa is linked to unplanned, informally developed urban areas that place vulnerable groups on city peripheries, according to a November report by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (VREF), a research financing group.

As a result, people who have to travel to the inner city for work can face long, pricey and often dangerous journeys, especially women travelling alone at night.

“This report comes at a critical juncture in African urban transport development as the continent emerges from the COVID-19 crisis,” said Gina Porter, a senior researcher at Durham University in Britain and one of the study’s main authors.

“It brings together, for the first time, knowledge about transport users’ needs and practices in African cities, with a particular focus on vulnerable groups,” she said in emailed comments.

According to the report, 70% of Africa’s urban population live in informal settlements.

The authors point to the transport challenges faced by women living in these settlements in dozens of African cities, including Tunis, Abuja and Cape Town.

A lack of safe transportation to and from work is linked with almost 16% lower labour force participation for women in developing countries, according to the United Nations’ International Labour Organization.

Transport poverty also impacts girls’ education, the VREF report says.

“Girls face major impediments to travel, like harassment and family constraints related to the travel risks they are perceived to face,” said Porter.

“Pubescent girls’ reduced access to secondary education … clearly impacts massively on their potential opportunities in the jobs market throughout their lives.”

TRANSPORT RIGHTS

Just over a quarter of South African women feel safe walking at night, according to a 2019 index by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security that measured safety in 167 countries.

Nongauza said it is essential she leaves work before dark to avoid any possible danger on the roads.

“I know of a woman who was raped by a taxi driver,” she said. “I know we have rights, but it sometimes feels like we don’t.”

The potential consequences of not addressing transport poverty are social exclusion, increased poverty and inequality, said Karen Lucas, a professor of human geography at the

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Women bear brunt of online abuse as world goes digital in pandemic

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Women bear the brunt of digital abuse – threatened with rape and exploited for porn – as the coronavirus pandemic drives ever more people online, media experts said on Wednesday.

Through salacious claims and viral memes, Brazilian journalist Patricia Campos Mello said she has repeatedly faced attack online for reporting on the Brazil government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Thousands of memes have circulated on the internet which my face appears in pornographic montages,” Mello told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual event, Trust Conference, held online this year due to the pandemic.

“(People) calling me a prostitute and saying that I offer sex in exchange for stories. I get messages from people saying I deserve to be raped.”

Women’s rights campaigners worldwide have warned of an increase in online abuse such as revenge porn as COVID-19 confines many people to stay home in front of a screen.

Girls as young as eight have also been subject to abuse, with one in five young women quitting or reducing their use of social media, according to a recent survey by girls’ rights group Plan International.

The International Women’s Media Foundation said 58% of nearly 600 female journalists interviewed in 2018 had been threatened or harassed in person, and one in 10 had received death threats.

This came as no surprise to India-based journalist Rana Ayyub, who has featured in a fake porn video circulated to government officials and has received numerous death threats.

“I had burnt copies of my book … sent to me at home saying this would happen to me,” said Ayyub.

“If you are a critic of the government and a woman, who also happens to be a Muslim, this ticks all the boxes to be humiliated and to be discredited.”

The #MeToo movement – which took off three years ago – has emboldened women to recount their experiences of being verbally abused, groped, molested or raped.

Ayyub said online abuse needed to be taken more seriously, adding that authorities are yet to do anything about the dozens of death threats she had received.

“We underplay how online threats can be dangerous because there’s a very thin line when online can go offline,” she said.

“It’s about time that our countries make it safer for us to be where we are and not feel threatened to leave.”

Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

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