ISLAMABAD: A policy dialogue held as part of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence on Thursday discussed issues facing women’s mobility, and how mobility and lack of access affect the health, education and empowerment of women and girls.

The dialogue on ‘Women’s Mobility and Economic Empowerment’ was organised by Oxfam Pakistan, and featured a panel of guests who spoke on various aspects of the central theme. The event was moderated by Rashida Dohad of the Omar Asghar Foundation.

“We are all familiar that violence and the threat of violence places enormous barriers on women’s ability to participate in economic affairs, in social life, in public life. And so it’s a very opportune time to look at how this fear can be removed so that better mobility is possible, which can then lead to better economic empowerment,” she said.

“Women’s access to mobility is a very important element for the Sustainable Development Goal number 5, which talks about women’s empowerment,” Oxfam Country Director Mohammed Qazilbash said in his opening remarks.

He said mobility comes in various forms, from public transport to walking and using ride-sharing services, adding: “Mobility is core to any sort of achievement and success.”

“Without addressing the issue of dignified and safe mobility of women and girls from one location to another, we will not be able to achieve many of our indicators under SDG 5,” he said, explaining that this was why Oxfam had decided to focus on access to mobility.

“I personally am not in favour of a women’s only bus, or a women’s only taxi service. I think we as a society need to appreciate and understand that like anybody else women, girls, boys, transgenders, everybody needs to be able to move from one location to another in a safe and dignified way,” he said.

Dr Ra’ana Malik, the chairperson of the University of Punjab’s Gender Studies department, shared the findings of a study looking into mobility in Lahore and put forward recommendations in light of the results.

Dr Malik explained that the pilot study had a small sample size of 1,000 women who were commuters in Lahore, and aimed to assess the safety of women and girls on public transport focusing on the metro and the LTC buses. She said it had “alarming” results.

The study found that inadequate infrastructure and security arrangements, a gender-neutral approach by administrators and policymakers, social attitudes towards women and girls and the lack of awareness among the public about the impact of sexual harassment of the lives of women and girls were reasons why sexual harassment has gone unnoticed and has increased.

The most common forms of harassment included staring, stalking, obscene gestures, whistling, passing sexual comments, touching and so on. The study found that 82pc of women faced harassment at bus stops, while 90pc faced harassment on buses. Incidents were more common while waiting at bus stops and walking to and from the bus station, when women are alone.

She said the sample included senior citizens, transgender women, pregnant women and disabled women.

Dr Malik made a number of recommendations in light of the findings, including gender sensitivity training for bus drivers and conductors who, the study found, did not act in the face of complaints of sexual harassment.

The discussion concluded after Dr Sania Nishtar, the chairperson of the Benazir Income Support Programme, brought together a number of points that were discussed by other speakers on the panel and discussed the way the issue of mobility cuts across other issues that face women in Pakistan.

With her background in the health sector, she noted that one of the reasons for the premature deaths of women in childbirth is a lack of access to healthcare because they cannot physically travel to a healthcare provider.

In the same vein, she said, students cannot access education due to unsafe public and private transport, and women who would otherwise be working cannot do so because they cannot safely travel to places of work.

She added that while the issue of women’s mobility can be partly addressed by public policy intervention, it also requires a change in mindset on the part of women as well as for families to support women.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2018

Opinion

Editorial

Royal tantrum
Updated 20 Jul, 2024

Royal tantrum

The PML-N's confrontational stance and overt refusal to respect courts orders on arguably flimsy pretexts is a dangerous sign.
Bangladesh chaos
20 Jul, 2024

Bangladesh chaos

CHAOS has engulfed Dhaka, as well as other parts of Bangladesh, over the past few days. Anti-government protests had...
Fitch’s estimate
20 Jul, 2024

Fitch’s estimate

FITCH seems to be more optimistic about Pakistan accelerating its economic growth rate to 3.2pc during this fiscal...
Misplaced priorities
Updated 19 Jul, 2024

Misplaced priorities

The government must call its APC at the earliest and invite all stakeholders to take part; this matter cannot be delayed further.
Oman terror attack
19 Jul, 2024

Oman terror attack

THE normally peaceful sultanate of Oman was shaken by sectarian terrorism on Monday when militants belonging to the...
Urban flooding
19 Jul, 2024

Urban flooding

THE provincial authorities have been taking precautionary measures, or so we have been told, to cope with emergency...