By Melissa Chekwa
The life we experienced when we were small girls is no longer the same anymore. The crisis bedevilling Zimbabwe’s public transport system is creating morale predicament for women and girls. The respect that we used to give to adults is now compromised by some sex pests who are taking advantage of congestion in buses to molest girls.
One day I found myself in such a predicament when I sat next to an old man in the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) bus. At first I did not pay attention to him because the bus was crowded.
The old man did not see me as a potential daughter or even a sister. All I was to him was a potential prey. The fact that I was seated close to the window seat, away from the wandering eyes of fellow passengers gave him an advantage on top of the fact that he had the height advantage over me.
The old man probably thought groping my breasts would give him some sort of satisfaction. The first time it happened, I just thought it was just accidental. I felt a force pushing against my left breast. I looked up and his hands were neatly and carefully folded such that his right hand was protruding towards my left breast.
I did not want to call him off out of fear of being told that I was accusing an innocent man of sexually harassing me. I also thought it was an honest mistake until I noticed it was not. I feared the possibility of being told I was reading too much into the situation. After all, the bus literally had no space to breath. Then it happened again. I tried to indicate to him to stop through body language but he was looking the other way.
Realizing that I was now checking his movements he quickly folded his hands to the other side to assume a blameless and innocent posture. He was just waiting for me to lose my guard so that he could press on my breasts again.
The rage rapidly brewing inside me forced me to go for my phone. I wanted to take a picture of his face. I did not know what I was going to do with the picture. As if hiding him from his preying nature, his face mask protected him. It was then that my voice busted out. I told him to keep his hands to himself. He just kept quiet to avoid attracting attention.
It was the most uncomfortable journey I had ever had going home from work. When he reached his destination, he hurriedly got out of the bus without even facing me. I was angry with myself that I had not done much to expose this man. Most likely he will continue his dirty tricks on other women.
It is unfortunate that ZUPCO is failing to provide enough buses so as to reduce congestion in the buses. Public transport is now the breeding ground for sex pests and women get victimized by people they regard as their potential family. Perpetrators and violators have used the congested nature of the public space to molest women. It is sad because these are public spaces where women should at least feel safe compared to private spaces.
Sexual harassment is not something that one can get accustomed to. Subjecting women to this kind of abuse makes one to question the sincerity of the government to tackling violence against women and sexual abuse.
I have also received reports from my colleagues and some have also told me that they have experienced similar experience. I now feel that it is high time that women and girls open up and challenge authorities to provide safe transport system for women and girls.
This article was written as part of the Creative Centre for Communication and Development (CCCD) project that seeks to strengthen the voices of women and girls, especially under the grim impact of the Coronavirus (COVID 19). CCCD has used the WhatsApp mobile application to train women and girls so that they express their voices on what is happening in their communities.