Helen Clark joins Liberian all-women motorcycle club The Pink PanthersFeb 17, 2015
Monrovia, Liberia — UNDP Administrator Helen Clark has been made an honorary member of the Pink Panthers Motorcycle Club, an all-women association of Liberian commercial motorbike taxis drivers.
The Pink Panthers are a group of young women who have been riding motorbikes around Monrovia for years. They have faced harassment, robbery and sexual assault, and decided they would be stronger if banded together.
With just eleven members so far, they hope that by setting an example, other young women will learn to ride and participate in the male-dominated occupation.
Dearest Coleman, one of the members, has been riding for six years. She said that while she enjoyed the work, there are constant threats to her safety and well-being.
“I've been robbed so many times,” she said. “Sometimes men will ask me to take them somewhere isolated, and then they threaten me and rob me. But I have to keep going because I rent the bike and I need to pay the owner 500LD (US$6) each day.”
Dearest previously owned her own bike but it was stolen when a customer organised an ambush in an isolated area.
“He asked me to take him to Kakata, and for me that's a big job, so I said 'yes'. But when we stopped on the way for him to buy cane juice, he disappeared and two other men appeared with knives. I refused to give them the keys so they beat me and then took the bike. I was stranded.”
Since then, Dearest has had to rent a bike. Like most of the women drivers, their income fluctuates each day.
Garmai is in university, and has been driving customers around since she was just 14. She said that as a motorbike taxi driver, women put up with a lot.
“The hardest part is the uncertainty over our incomes – some days we can make 1000LD (US$12), other days we don't even reach 500LD, and we have to make up for it the next day.
On Sunday, the Deputy Director of the Liberian National Police gave a commitment that he would work with his officers to put measures in place to better protect women who ride motorbikes.
Helen Clark said that she admired the girls for being so determined and strong in light of all the challenges they face. She encouraged the Deputy Police Director to keep to his commitment.
“It's a matter of equality – women deal with extra risks, therefore they deserve extra protection from police,” she said to the women. “We need to make sure you're getting the help you need to make an income, as well as to be able to get around town without being harassed.”
UNDP has partnered with a Liberian NGO, the Angie Brooks International Centre, to bring the women together, and provided jackets and helmets, as well as spray bottles and hand sanitizer to protect against Ebola.
Yvette Chesson-Wureh from the Angie Brooks Foundation said that in order to get more young women to take up riding, there needed to be more job security and higher incomes, as well as for women to feel safer on the streets.
“We want to help women to get together and negotiate with the owners of the bikes so that they can reduce the rent they pay,” she said. “We also want to find a way to help women purchase their own bikes – through loans or by buying as a group.”
“Above all, we want to ensure their safety. We will talk to women in different communities and see if there's a market for an all-female taxi service – so that both the driver and the passenger can feel safe.”
All the women involved in the program have a 100 percent safety record on the roads – none of their passengers have ever been injured.