FOR most Pakistani women, negotiating societal, physical and moral restrictions is a way of life. Be it the workplace, an educational institution or their home, the challenges they face are far too many. Daily transport is no different: fear of sexual harassment, the stigma attached to coming into contact with unrelated men and a plethora of logistical problems while commuting, place countless barriers in their pursuit of education and work, and even in their attempts to complete everyday chores. The problems begin even before women reach the bus stop. A pilot survey of 1,000 households in Lahore carried out by the Centre for Economic Research in Pakistan showed that at least 300 — 30pc — of the respondents felt it was “unsafe” for women to walk in the neighbourhood. This issue was also raised at a seminar in Karachi. Urban planners at the event stated that the logistics of the existing transportation system were geared towards men and that women faced difficulties in gaining access to various modes of transport.
Secondly, the experts said, the present transportation system did not meet the requirements of women, who had different commuting patterns from men. There were a number of issues, for example, lack of adequate seating for women in public buses. Experts suggested the plying of exclusive public transport for women. The idea is a sensible one. Women would feel safer in larger groups and with a considerable number commuting for work and education it might also prove to be economically viable. In 2014, a women-only bus service was launched in Islamabad and Rawalpindi but the service was closed after a few months. Perhaps transport authorities in Pakistan can revisit this initiative and give incentives to transporters for operating buses exclusively for women. The authorities should also deploy law-enforcement officers at bus stops and improve street lighting near bus routes. Small steps will go a long way in making women feel safe on the streets and allow them to increase their productivity at work.
Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2020