Sexual harassment of women in public spaces persists in Cameroon.
Photo credit: Comfort Mussa

Some months ago I had to travel from Bamenda to Douala for work.

I had a lot of work to do on the set date and took the night bus to save timeand also get some sleep! That was not to be.

I arrived at the agency, found my seat inside the bus close to the window. I wanted a comfortable spot where I planned to sleep throughout the trip. A man probably in his forties got into the bus, checked his ticket number and eventually took the seat next to mine.

As usual, when our journey started, the driver switched off the lights in the bus and began playing some really loud music. I leaned back and tried to get some sleep in spite of the music. The man beside me adjusted himself on his seat, put his arm on the back of my seat and gingerly touched my neck. I politely asked him to take his hand away. He did and I shifted away from him and moved closer to the window and eventually dozed off.

About an hour later, I woke up and realized my strange neighbor was struggling to force his hands into my shirt to touch my boobs!

I felt sick. Horrified, I yelled and asked him to stop. Surprisingly enough, no passenger asked why I ordered my neighbor to stop touching me. I could not change my seat because all seats on the bus were already occupied I didn’t sleep again throughout the trip. I was awake so I could”guard my body” against uninviting intrusion. I needed to make sure that the man, who by necessity had to sit beside me for more than five hours, didn’t try his nasty moves again.

I have experienced such harassment thrice and heard countless stories of women who are harassed in buses, taxis and even motor bikes in Cameroon. It is a constant battle for some women to reach their destinations without being touched, squeezed, and grabbed. Sometimes, they are subjected to lewd comments from other passengers.

In many cities in Africa, women face harassment and violence not only at home and in their relationships, but also in public spaces. The Cameroon government has since joined forces with international organizations in trying to end all forms of violence against women. Despite this, harassment and violence against women is a daily occurrence across the country.

Hiding the problem

Public transportation across Cameroon has multiple problems and overcrowding is just one of the most annoying of them. It would be unfair to blame all men for touching women or vice versa. However women  have a strong case to make concerning sexual harassment on public transportation.

Sadly, most cases are under reported.

Cordelia Ndagha , Mezam Divisional Delegate For Women’s Empowerment and Family says ‘sexual harassment on public transportation is very common .Sometimes the men who do it, try to touch the most intimate parts of the bodies of the female passengers”.  The majority of women would suffer in silence. Others may feel embarrassed and will not want to ‘make a scene’. Some others keep quiet for fear of being accused of provoking the situation.

The men who harass women or sympathize with those who do so ask, “how is a man supposed to control his urge when he stands behind a girl wearing a tight pair of jeans in a congested bus or seating besides a girl with exposed enticing body parts?” I wonder if those who ask such questions will also tell a hungry boy who passes near a restaurant to break in and steal some food.

Photo credit: Comfort Mussa

“Our bodies are never public property under any circumstance,” Gloria Steinem
Photo credit :Comfort Mussa

Problems persist when not tackled

I told the driver about my experience when the bus stopped and he just shrugged and said that is how some men behave. I complained at the bus agency and was told the same thing. Some men just like touching women in night buses, was the general reaction and little could be done to stop the harassment.

One of the key reasons for the persistent high rate of violence against women in Cameroon is that they are mostly ignored by the rest of society. I remember a situation on a bus once when a lady complained loudly that the man sitting beside her was touching her thighs . Other passengers laughed and told her to “arrange” whatever it was with her neighbor. Some other people told her that “neighbor helep neighbor” (that is, she should help a neighbor in need)  .The driver did not stop or warn the man since he did not think it was any form of harassment. Men apparently always get away with a lot of bad behavior especially when this is directed against women

[su_service title=”The Way Forward” icon=”icon: chevron-circle-right”] If we are to end sexual harassment in public spaces and our public transportation network, we’ll have to start raising our voices in protest.

Ngah Nfor , a man who uses public transport says , when victims don’t complain they give the men who harass them mixed signals. He says this can explain why such harassment persists.

Victims must speak out each time anybody harasses them wherever that happens. No excuse is good enough. When we stay silent we are condoning such types of behavior.[/su_service]

[su_service title=”Safety measures” icon=”icon: chevron-circle-right”]Here are some safety tips I gathered along the way;

• If I must travel on the night bus, I try to get a seat close to the driver because there is usually some light there unlike the rest of the bus that is often pitch dark

• If I am traveling with a friend, I prefer to seat near them.

• Reading a book (when traveling by day) or wearing headphones tells anybody near me that I don’t want to engage. This sometimes is still not good enough to stop the bullies.

• Reporting the perpetrator is another good measure. Most of the time, no action is taken against the bully but silence is complicity.• I still think the fact that there are no lights inside night buses is primarily to blame for this harassment.

• There have been complaints about this and some travel agencies are introducing some changes. In December 2013, I was very happy to see that one of the travel agencies did provide some form of shady light at night. With some kind of light, most of the perpetrators some of whom are just cowards, will do nothing. They fear any form of light and exposure.

• Speaking out against harassment on public transportation vehicles is a way to ensure that the society learns that harassment is NEVER acceptable. I have even encouraged some male colleagues to discuss the subject of sexual harassment against women on their radio programs. The more we talk about and against it, the more aware our society becomes of the fact that sexual harassment against women is wrong.[/su_service]

[su_box title=”* Side Note” style=”soft” box_color=”#e7e5e5″]Not all Cameroonian men harass women on public transport. I have done countless trips on night buses and sat near very decent men of all ages. The proportion of men who grab, squeeze and harass women must not be allowed to continue.[/su_box]

Have you ever been harassed in a bus? Please share your story.

Photo credit: www.change.org

Photo credit: www.change.org

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22 Comments

Nakinti February 11, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Commy nice one! I am a notorious night traveler and I have been a victim once. The sad thing is the guy who did this was a ‘small’ boy, deceived by his height. He started by pretending as if he was sleeping, but working with his hands — touching my thigh, even though covered with jeans. I tried in several attempts to push his hands off my thigh to no avail. My sister, trust me, as mad as I am sometimes, I shouted very loud “stop touching me, fool” and quickly, he pulled away his filthy hands. Everybody got up in the bus, the lights were switched on, and the ugly duckling started snoring with his eyelids shaking. But thank God, the touching stopped, and I got to Bamenda in one piece. When we reached Bamenda, places were already shinning. The young man got up and said to me “Grand Seour good morning.” What the fuck, I thought — so this guy knew I was his elder sister. Wandas!

Penjo Baba February 11, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Its too bad for such things, I wish no one does this to my sister or any relative becos there is no one second of I will think of doing it to another… Its not only men doing it to women now oooo, I will never forget, I slapped one man who did that to me and I later heard he is a homo, that time I even never knew what homo was all about, I didn’t care bcos it was not like now I hear about everyday… He was more mater than me and i did not and will never regret slapping him off in the public and letting everyone know what happened… make man no tryam for ma corner abeg

KING ARMSTRONG DeGREAT February 11, 2014 at 1:31 pm

VERY OFTEN, WOMEN DELIBERATELY AND FOOLISHLY ATTRACT THESE ACTS OF HARASSMENT, IT’S A PITY.

    Mussa February 11, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    How do they attract these acts of harrassment?

    Bih Sylvia March 3, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    That is not true King Amstrong. Only low profiled men do that.

    Layih Butake January 22, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    Pray tell, how do women attract such harassment?

Vitalis N T February 11, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Great piece of awareness Commy and sorry to know someone attempted that on you. Only cowards will fo such a thing and some of them become addicts when left unchecked. though men do it more, a few womrn also push it to some extend. I remember a few of my numerous trips between Bamenda and Yaounde when some of my female neighbors tried to use my thighs for a sleeping bag and my hands for boob pillow, crazy I would think. But each time I resisted, the impression on their faces gave the impression I wasn’t man enough. We all need to stand up against such practices and build a healthy society. Thanks for reawakening the idea…let the talking contonue…hopefully results would start coming…we need some form of lighting on all night buses when on motion.

Ambe Fokwa February 11, 2014 at 5:11 pm

The issue is to intensify the lobby by promoting dialogue just like you’re already doing. I don’t know how effective rallying together women to openly announce they will boycott the services of a particular bus service where women are being harassed and nothing is being done would be. They could then encourage other women to publicly do the same. Is our society enlightened to collectively engage in such an action? If you moved to the right lobby groups like CATTU, CWF’s, etc. and motivated mature women in their numbers to back the boycott it could have alarming results and push other agencies to institute clear rules against such behavior. Of course you have to accept becoming a throne in the flesh of some people. Good article Comfort. It all begins with creation of awareness that such things do occur. Then brainstorming for solutions.

    Mussa February 11, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    Thanks Ambe!

Amy BANDA February 11, 2014 at 9:16 pm

It is horrible commy to think that human beings still preach peace and all the virtues, but do not walk the talk. Upon my return from the burial of an illustrous CFI personality Mambo Mancho (RIP) I had this same experience and I was very bitter with the moral pervert who could not control his eros urge till he gets home. You are right when you say the women even blame themselves because I began asking myself what in me provoked that audacity in him to behave in that manner. I mean, this is somebody I don’t even know and cannot recognize if he is infront of me, but who parades his fingers on my back, pretending as if he was looking for a support posture.You know what Commy, I wasn’t dressed half naked. I had a Moroccan outfit covering all portions of my body. How on earth will this one claim I was putting on tight fit jeans and a sexy top exposing my ‘boob’s and other irresistable parts of my body.Say I could beat him, I would have forgotten about my peace & patriotism talk for once in my life. Gush! It is very irritating to tolerate that form of disrespect towards the woman, considered the Mother of humnanity. You ask yourself when and how this all went wrong, you can’t find answers; You talk to people around you who blame you for being seductive; You report even in Church and you are advised to pray and forgive the moral pervert; You tell your brother or friend who gets unserious in his/her reaction… What are you left with? Self blame and self pity! How does this help the situation? It rather opens a direct path to depression; One that opens another window to poor relationships with men for fear of the uncertain. How different will this one be from the other? How am I sure he won’t even do worse? What am I provoking in him this time around? Will I take shit from him?
I know you knocked at my door and I opened the window as well, but u know Commy? If talking, sharing and intellectual mind robbing exercises like this will solve petinent issues causing turmoil, usually ignored and minimised by a majority in the society, then I will even open my heart. That is part of the healing process .

    Mussa February 11, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Yes Amy, speaking out is part of the healing process.And we have to teach others not to condone such practices

Bambo Samuel February 11, 2014 at 10:29 pm

This is another ‘silent war’ that women are fighting today, though I’ve not seen it happen on buses in my travels, the whispers are sure loud enough for me to have heard. It takes Mussa Comfort to bring it to the limelight and it should not die on this Blog. It is common place to hear a boy talking of his exploit on a night trip in a bus with a stranger-girl; he just wanted to see what she will do, and then she did nothing, and then they ended up taking the same taxi home, we have some sisters out there who are waiting for this to happen to them, I don’t blame them but I think they really did not know that they just got harassed sexually. Woman got value and that is what they should know, now men got pride and it all starts with the respect you give to the woman next to you. It is a sad thing that plenty-a-women have decided not to SHOUT OUT, because speaking out might just go unnoticed. It is sickening to know that most men who do this will go unpunished since the law really doesn’t spell out clearly such offenses. However, to combat this, women need to speak out, and not stay in silence.
I always see some useful notices on buses about ‘no vomiting in the bus’ and things like that, I thing buses should carry stickers warning against ‘sexual harassment’. I just asked a little one beside me and do you know our primary schools really don’t tell them anything about sexual harassment!?, in my secondary school days I had never heard of it so many who see it happen might not even know its a crime and most often might joke over it whereas the lady is hurting, children and adults need to be educated as to the line that separates THE GAME from THE CRIME. I hate bringing this up; I have nothing against people dressing how they want to and for whatever occasion, but I know your first defense is your dress. There are men out there who get on buses looking for a lady to ‘prey on’, let him not pick you out from the loose blouse you wearing. Or the pants that leave your rear-top exposed.
Now the ball is thrown back to the women who prefer to ‘die in silence’, NOBODY CAN FIGHT IT IF YOU CAN NOT VOICE IT.

Fri Della February 12, 2014 at 9:09 am

Its a vice that has chopped the subconcious minds of most poeple that they can’t cry foul when they are confronted to. Almost every lady has at one point been a victim of such harassment

Anrette Ngafor February 12, 2014 at 2:39 pm

I believe this should not end here and we need to bring this to attention, if we don’t we are worst than the women who sit quiet after being harassed. I have never experienced such an act but God knows what will happen to that individual because this young guys in Camer can only want to see how far they can go not leaving out the older ones harassment is same old or young they should be treated according.

Forcha February 12, 2014 at 2:56 pm

It is said freedom is never willingly given by the oppressor, it is won by the oppressed through denunciation, resistance etc. In as much as there are more men involve in the fight for women’s right, the women should take up the challenge. The man has enjoyed and still enjoys such dominant power over a woman that he is very reluctant to let go. But with constant denunciations of this horrible act of lack of simple respect for a fellow human being things will surely change. I must say in Africa the women folk are very reluctant to come out from what i will call their comfort zone, it is through channels and actions like this that we can help them. Women who refuse to denounce this kind of act are still under the influence of the male dominance phenomenon. But this is time for them to act. The world is changing and it has been proven that if we respect each other, recognize each other’s potential and work hand in glove things can get even better

BISHOP TONY GARTH February 14, 2014 at 10:07 am

It’s all the way bad to even think of harassing women in buses or any other vessel of transportation. The sad thing is, the public around does nothing about this. a short story goes thus: on a very bright day, a lady just parked and was seated in her car trying to arrange herself when one young man entered the car and was trying to rob her. She screamed and fought back. When people gathered around, the young man who was also well dressed made the public to understand that, she was his girlfriend who lied to him of she haven not cheated with his friend, when he caught them right handed. He then began beating up the lady and tried to seize her bag saying ”I will deprive you of your phone and ATM card. Him being stronger and louder was dominating and was happy the masses was for him. As God would have it some of her office colleagues were moving towards her to find out what the problem was. This guy quickly left everything and disappeared in thin air.” My issue here is that women are not only sexually harassed but in all other areas cos they are considered as ”the weaker sex”. In our nation these irresponsible good for nothing boys have no fathers to teach boys to become sons and from sons to become fathers. If you are a man who still think of using your pseudo manhood to intimidate and harass women just anyhow then you are still just a boy, believe it or not. Real men and fathers keep their dicks in their pants and their zips never go down but only to their wives and not girlfriends. Women and girls should also not keep sugar daddies and boy friends cos the result is if one doesn’t satisfy you, you go for another. If women want sexual harassment to stop coming their way, then they should act responsibly. Thank you Commy for setting this site up. I will not hesitate to contribute and help whenever. Shalom

destinyngum@yahoo.com March 2, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Thks for speaking for women you know i have also experience this traveling back from Douala. Its really unfortunate because it was also a night journey,it was so annoying. After stopping him severally and rejecting his advances i just had to distant and ignore him till the end of the journey. We really need to do something about this.thks

Delphine Fanfon September 3, 2014 at 9:39 pm

Thanks for documenting this Commy. My skin still crawls to remember the two times some pretty disgusting men have attempted that on me. This must stop indeed. I wish law enforcement officials could set an example on just one of them perverts.
Speaking out is indeed key and we must not wait another day to do so.

Cosby March 25, 2015 at 8:12 pm

It’s really a preoccupying situation to have your sister ridiculed, disgraced and destroyed by only-God-knows-who. However, your sister could be at the origin of or orchestra-tor of the act. Why am I saying this?. I commented with a colleague of a period between August 2012 to June 2013 when I could sense a kind of “Devil after me”. In August 2012, I boarded a seventy-sitter bus for Douala for work. In a similar manner as the Mussa but this time around I moved to take my place next to the passage when a young lady of about 18 or less had taken her sit next to mine to the left. A few minutes before the bus took off, she boldly asked my destination and purpose of traveling, which initially I perceived to be a kind of intrusion. Shortly after, she asked me if I was feeling sleepy, and I answered “no”, she went on to say that I should feel free to lean on her if I wanted to sleep and I still gave her the same answer. We traveled farther and she told me she wanted to sleep, I responded that she should if she feels like to sleep and she asked me if she could lean on me, I imagined her boldness and sensed “danger” but did not want to conclude it at this stage, looking at the innocence of her face. She later tilted her head towards me and rested it on my shoulder. The film started in the early hours of the morning when I had been taken by sleep and I was coming round again. I woke up to discover that my left hand was already carried by her right hand and with her index finger in my palms and scratching it gently. I started asking myself a number of questions ranging from “Is she doing this in sleep?”, “what is the meaning of this if she is aware of her act?,”, suddenly she looked at me on the face, I pretended to be sleeping while she leaned back. Later, with her left her she started pulling my left hand gently towards her breasts into her “blouson” while sending the right hand into my T-shirt. This time around I came out clear and asked her if she realized what she was doing, she answered me by saying ” Is that anything?”. At this time, I asked her not to do it again and she stopped. When we arrived Douala in the morning, I stayed longer at the park to talk with her on sexual education issues, and she made me to understand that she had two boy friends and what she did was not up to anything. Being afraid that people will not understand that a “small girl” could be carrying out such acts on a relatively “elderly” person like me, I kept it to myself. On return to the office, I discussed with some male colleagues and sadly none of their responses could be for the interest of the young girl. One said, “you see bush meat leavam?”, the other said, “there no small girls nowadays, that was a easy catch”. In my opinion, no one is an exception even though women and girls are at a greater risk. I sincerely believe that raising an alarm like what Mussa did will create awareness and keep everybody on the alert. Within the period earlier mentioned, I encountered about three cases related to the subject in question.

    Mussa August 10, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    Cosby, thank you for sharing your story with us.

Layih Butake January 22, 2016 at 12:41 pm

Great write up Commy. I have a phobia for night travel and have only tried it once. I was lucky to be seated by a decent gentleman who kindly offered his shoulder when I requested to lean on him, as I was quite ill. Imagine walking down the street to grab a cab, or buy something from the store, only to have an idle park boy swing his hand in the direction of your behind or chest,sometimes failing, other times succeeding. Is he high on something, or is he just mingling with the wrong species? For the offenders who feel entitled just because you’re sitting next to them, blow the whistle, raise an alarm and cause unrest in the bus until they’re shamed into a halt. And for the recalcitrant hoodlums, let’s just lock them up and throw away the key. I long for a system where subtle and overt acts of harassment against women will be unequivocally criminal and duly punished.

Almighty N.N January 22, 2016 at 10:48 pm

Sexual harassment in any form towards any person male or female should be denounced and punished accordingly but it is so ‘normal’ in our society that almost everyone is nonchalant about it. The indecent dressing argument is so lame and the ‘easy bush meat’ excuse so debasing. Again, mobilization and sensitization are key. Like Ambe Fonkwa pointed out, we could encourage victims to speak out and a boycott of some agencies is done in order to coerce their administration to address the issue. The cup has been overflowing for too long!!!

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