By Yolanda Salazar
El Alto, Bolivia, Sep 30 (EFE).- A group of Bolivian women have responded to public safety concerns in the highland city of El Alto by launching the “Lilac Line,” a transportation service aimed at ensuring that women, children and the elderly can safely reach their destinations.
Spearheaded by Cemupe, an organization of female entrepreneurs in Bolivia’s second-largest city, that service brings together 45 female drivers with experience behind the wheel while also providing training to other women interested in joining this initiative, Cemupe executive Julia Quispe told Efe.
Single mothers, entrepreneurs and formerly unemployed persons are among those offering this service “independently,” driving taxis and buses to earn income for their families amid difficult circumstances resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, she said.
The Lilac Line will be formally inaugurated in October, initially as a taxi service, Quispe said, adding that their attempts to become affiliated with a public transport union have been rejected thus far due to “a bit of machismo.”
“All women have the right to work. We have the same rights and we hope there won’t be any problems or complications. We’re not competition for them,” Quispe said of the team of female drivers, who for now wear lilac-colored neckerchiefs to identify themselves as part of the project.
Soledad Sanchez, who has been driving a taxi for more than six years, told Efe the lilac color was chosen because of its association with campaigns to eradicate violence against women.
She noted that public transport in El Alto has become unsafe in recent years and that female passengers in particular are the targets of robberies and have even been raped and murdered.
The service is therefore specifically intended for women, children and the elderly, although it will also provide transportation for entire families, Quispe said.
“We want people who use the Lilac Line with women at the wheel to see public transport differently,” Sanchez said.
To help ensure safety for passengers and drivers alike, efforts are being made to equip each of the vehicles with cameras and GPS devices, she added.
Several of the women already have experience in the public transport sector, including Mery Yujra, who for at least a decade has made a living driving everything from trucks to small cars.
She told Efe some male drivers in past years resented her for doing this work and on different occasions cut her off on the road or made rude comments.
“There are some who insult you. Some are discriminatory. Not everyone is like that,” Yujra said.
She noted that other male drivers have expressed their support, adding that the fact that women are uniting in the Lilac Line initiative gives her more strength and confidence.
Sanchez said she also has had some negative experiences over the past six-plus years and even heard men say her place is in the kitchen and not behind the wheel.
But she has observed that more and more women are now working as drivers and says that strength in numbers is allowing them to carry out their work without fear.
“This organization is providing an opportunity, support and collaboration so we women can move forward and leave machismo behind,” Sanchez said.
El Alto is following in the footsteps of other Bolivian cities such as La Paz and Cochabamba, where similar female-led public transport initiatives exist to provide a greater sense of security for female passengers. EFE