Safe Ride: Preventing Gender-Based Violence in Taxis

Safe Ride: Preventing Gender-Based Violence in Taxis – Be inspired

In a nutshell

The Safe Ride campaign’s objective is to engage the South African taxi industry (taxi associations, drivers, owners, queue marshals) and key government departments in a campaign to promote respectful and non-violent behaviour towards customers, prevent sexual and gender-based violence and harassment, and promote gender equality and safety of women and children within the taxi industry.

What we do

Let’s look at the numbers:

Public transport is an essential part of everyday life for many South Africans. According to a 2013 National Household Travel Survey, nearly 40% of workers used public transport as their main mode of travel to work - with 68% of these being public transport trips made by taxi, 20% by bus, and 13% by train. 

The South African National Taxi Council estimates that it alone serves 15 million commuters across the country every day, and has roughly 680,000 rank managers, 160,000 operators and 560,000 drivers (mostly men) affiliated to the organization. 

Women’s Mobility and Safety:

Women spend significantly more time than men performing caring work. Much of care work in South Africa depends on public transportation, and research shows that a greater number of women make multiple-stop trips when traveling between their homes and workplaces. 

Yet, public transportation has been described as “an institution through which hegemonic masculinity is maintained” (Graglia, 2016), where women are at greater risk of violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault; thus making safety a major concern for women when making a choice on public transportation options. This often impacts on women’s willingness to travel, which has the potential to lead to their economic detriment, and has been shown to increase women’s anxieties and feeling of safety in public spaces. 

The main dangers women face in public transportation range from forms such as catcalling, unwanted attention, inappropriate physical contact, aggressive advances from strangers, and a range of other invasive sexualized behaviours. Unlike men in public, women are presumed to be ‘open persons’, making them available for unsolicited interaction, which often results in harassment that includes verbal harassment, visual harassment, and physical forms such as men exposing themselves, groping or other forms of touching. Many women and children thus feel a sense of insecurity when accessing public transport both during the day and at night.

The lack of proper infrastructure within taxi ranks and surroundings such as well-lit street lights and poor doors and security in public restrooms in taxi ranks, place women at increased risk of being sexually and physically attacked while commuting and whilst in transit.


To holistically address gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa, there is thus a need to focus on public transport. Consequently, in 2016, Sonke Gender Justice, in partnership with SANTACO (South African National Taxi Council), launched the Safe Ride Campaign.

The purpose of the campaign is to engage the South African taxi industry and key government departments in a campaign to promote respectful and non-violent behaviour towards customers, prevent sexual and gender-based violence and harassment, and promote gender equality and safety of women and children within the taxi industry.

This is achieved through direct educational training interventions with taxi rank owners, drivers, queue marshals and commuters on gender, GBV and their rights, as well as working with government and other stakeholders to advocate for change at a policy level.

How we do it

In line with Sonke Gender Justice’s Theory of Change, the project draws on a broad range of social change strategies that include:

  • Partnering with government to promote policy development and effective implementation;
  • Advocacy, activism and community mobilisation;
  • Networking and coalition work;
  • Innovative communication strategies for social change; and
  • Community education

The project incorporates a broad range of activities, including dialogues; training taxi drivers as peer educators; producing awareness materials; painting murals; taxi rank activations; research, policy analysis and advocacy; government engagement; partnership building; media engagement and interviews; radio PSAs; and a radio drama series.

What we have achieved

Drawing on the ‘how we do it’, the activities and resultant achievements can be divided into 1) Community Education and Mobilisations; 2) Policy, research and advocacy; and 3) Communication and Strategic Information.

Community Education and Mobilisation

  • Dialogues have been held in various locations across Johannesburg, and have included women commuters, taxi drivers, queue marshals, taxi owners, and national, provincial and local government representatives. During the dialogues, women voiced their vulnerability and fear of using taxis, particularly in the early and late hours of the day, acknowledging that commuting to work at these times is stressful.
  • Taxi rank activations/Information Education Communication (IEC) sessions focus on how men, including taxi drivers and queue marshals, can be involved in the prevention of sexual harassment in taxis and from the taxi ranks.
  • Taxi Rank Action Teams were formed following taxi rank activations. These teams include taxi drivers and queue marshals from different taxi ranks, who volunteer their time to work with the Sonke teams in the taxi ranks as mobilisers and are trained as peer educators. They are provided with t-shirts and stickers, and are trained on and provided with Sexual Offenses Act booklets, fact sheets on how to support a survivor of sexual violence, and information on the rights of commuters. They use these materials to engage with their fellow drivers and commuters. The Action Team members also contributed towards the development of the material and intervention activities.
  • Together with taxi drivers and commuters, message cards outlining information on the rights of commuters and a list of service providers for victims of sexual and gender-based violence have been developed. The cards were developed for commuters and have so far been translated into Zulu and Sotho. Additional messaging for bumper stickers, license holders and t-shirts has also been developed and is geared towards the taxi drivers. This messaging incorporates street lingo mostly used by taxi drivers.
  • Working in collaboration government departments, including the National Department of Health (NDoH), National Department of Transport (NDoT), South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO), local taxi associations and civil society organisations, to strengthen and intensify a healthy lifestyle campaign under the Phila umbrella wherein multitudes of taxi operators, drivers and commuters, including other cohorts within the taxi industry value chain are mobilized to test for HIV, screen for TB and other non-communicable diseases.
  • Actively monitoring cases and providing support for survivors who have experienced harassment and assault on taxis.

Policy, Research and Advocacy

To support the community education and mobilisation activities, Sonke expanded the project to include policy, research and advocacy initiatives in late 2017. Some of our achievements thus far have included:

  • A  research report drafted on public transport and safety for women and children in South Africa, drawing on lessons learnt locally and from across the world.
  • A roundtable dialogue convened in June 2018, with academics, civil society organisations, Chapter 9 institutions and government stakeholders, to assess the current situation of public transport and safety (this included taxis and trains); to map research, policy and advocacy initiatives to ascertain what is currently being done and avoid duplication; and to develop an action plan consisting of recommendations to take forward.
  • Collaboration with government departments to a) establish a stakeholder forum, following recommendations emanating from the roundtable dialogue, which includes community engagement and research in view of developing a Safety in Public Transport policy; b) contribute gender sensitive language in policies and operational plans; and c) participate in the National Department of Transport’s subcommittee on universally accessible transport. These platforms are important for us to participate in to ensure that our experience through our community work with Safe Ride is reflected in policy processes.
  • Educational materials developed outlining research and policy, used for advocacy initiatives.  

Communication and Strategic Information

To amplify the project, Sonke engages the media across a number of platforms, including radio and TV interviews and opinion pieces, and has developed:

  • A  Safe Ride video, which has been a valuable tool to engage taxi drivers, queue marshals and commuters during the dialogues, particularly in cases where taxi drivers deny that sexual harassment is happening. The video depicts real life stories of women who have been harassed and raped by taxi drivers
  • Public Service Announcements that have been broadcast on radio stations across Gauteng.
  • A new radio drama series tackling sexual harassment and gender based violence in the taxi industry, to be heard on radio stations across the country. The dramas include discussion guides for radio presenters to help them host discussions, ask questions, present accurate facts and dispel common myths associated with sexual harassment and GBV.

What we have learned

  1. Maintaining and strengthening partnerships across all sectors is key in successfully implementing not only this project, but addressing and eradicating GBV. 
  2. Community level advocacy is a priority to ensure citizen engagement within a democratic society. 
  3. Coalitions and movements being immense value and power and are a key component of effectively addressing social ills.
  4. Evidence based research is a powerful tool to engage government, especially when linked to government roles, mandates and responsibilities. 
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