What you need to know:
- Covid-19 has dealt women in matatu industry a big blow; taking a toll on their mental and emotional health.
- There is the fear of contracting the virus, food insecurity and lack of access to clean water, rent challenges, children not going to school and fear of being caught outside past curfew time.
- Most women in the public transport industry either work as conductors, drivers, mechanics or clerks or are matatu owners.
Apart from washing hands, wearing masks and keeping a safe social distance in public spaces, Covid-19 has dealt women a big blow; taking a toll on their mental and emotional health.
A report by Flone Initiative, a women-led non-profit organisation, found that women in the transport sector have experienced general anxiety during the Covid-19 period. Job losses have led to lack of clarity of thought and frequent headaches.
There is also the fear of contracting the virus, food insecurity and lack of access to clean water, rent challenges, children not going to school and fear of being caught outside past curfew time.
Most women in the public transport industry either work as conductors, drivers, mechanics or clerks or are matatu owners.
Ms Anjelica Kasina, a matatu owner, attributes her anxiety and stress to reduced income that has driven her into debt.
With a 52-seater bus and two 33-seater minibuses, she would deposit Sh18,000 with the bank every day after settling daily bills including fuel, monthly insurance, county fees, daily Sacco payment, spare parts and staff payment.
However, due to social distance protocols that required them to carry fewer passengers, coupled with daily purchase of sanitizers, the bills have risen while the income dwindles.
“After settling the bills, I remain with nothing. To finance the next day, I have to borrow,” says Ms Kasina.
The situation has become so dire that she pulled her three buses from operations for almost a month, last month.
“If the situation worsens, most owners might pull out their buses from the road,” she remarks.
Female drivers and touts have not been spared. Apart from less earnings, they are exposed to dangerous encounter with police officers given that they sometimes close work late.
Nancy Njeri, a mother of three, is a matatu driver. The 38-year-old lost her husband last year and is the sole breadwinner. Before the pandemic, she earned between Sh1,000 and Sh1,500 but now takes home between Sh500 and Sh200 a day.
“I have been forced to take my kids upcountry to stay with their grandmother. Unfortunately, they are unable to attend online classes due to unavailability of a smartphone, poor network and lack of TV.”
Esther Kalekye, a matatu tout, shares similar sentiments. The 27-year-old, single mother of one, earns roughly the same amount as Nancy. She saves half of her daily earnings, despite the tough times.
The two women interact with many people daily given their kind of work - people whose Covid-19 status is unknown. They live in fear of contracting the virus and have to permanently wear their masks and carry sanitizers.
Ms Njeri and Ms Kalekye agree that beating the curfew has been a tall order. They transport passengers until late and sometimes traffic jam slows them down, making it difficult to beat the curfew.
“I try to manage my time wisely, but sometimes I get home late. I have been lucky I haven’t experienced police brutality,” says Njeri.
Ms Kalekye, on the other hand, says she gets home late at least four days a week.
“I have never been harassed, but my passengers have. My lateness is not deliberate, it is because of the evening traffic jam we encounter,” she says.
Some women in the transport business have, however, not been as lucky.
Until the first case of coronavirus was reported in the country, Naomi Njeri Ngugi, 42, worked as tout for a matatu Sacco plying Eastlands- CBD route. As the pandemic plummeted, the Sacco, her employer, fired her. She was recalled about two weeks ago to relieve a colleague who took a day off.
At the close of business, she experienced delays waiting for her dues. As she prepared to leave, she says two officers stopped her and bundled her into a Land Cruiser.
“Inside the vehicle were two other officers who kept hitting my back. I explained that I was a tout and had my PSV badge, which serves as my official identity documentation but they wouldn’t listen,” she says.
She notes that when the pain got worse, she lay on her back, but they started hitting her hands and face.
“Other people that were bundled in after me were subjected to the same torture. Even then, I was the only woman in the vehicle, which also made me uncomfortable.”
After driving off, she says the officers asked her for money, and she parted with the Sh1,200 she had earned that day to avoid spending the night in a police cell, leaving her with nothing to cater for her needs.
“Since that incident, I have declined offers to stand in for colleagues. I have even contemplated quitting my job because making an honest living is proving extremely difficult.”
Flone initiative survey found that 83 per cent of women in the transport sector in Nairobi Metropolis, have an “average family size of three.” Against the backdrop of diminishing wages, landlords have been hard on their backs, expecting them to pay their rent on time.
“30 per cent of the respondents stated that they had defaulted on rent and were also struggling to settle their utility bills,” the report shows.
As a result, Flone urges women in the sector to join self-help groups and workers’ organisations to ensure their voices and roles are amplified. They are also encouraged to have alternative sources of income.
Women’s issues, the group argues, “would also be better represented when they vie for positions in the matatu unions and associations, especially their security.”