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Aside from social norms and restriction, a crucial factor hindering women’s participation in the labour force, continuing their education, or engaging in other activities is access to public transport.
There are deep-rooted cultural and religious norms against women coming in close contact with unrelated men; the discomfort, social stigma, and fear of harassment have constrained women’s choices. The government attempted to address women’s concerns by introducing separate sections and running women-only buses. However, challenges remains for women’s safety and comfort on public transport in Pakistan.
The truth is that Pakistan’s roads are designed to cater to men driving cars. Urban planners don’t consider that women have different needs for public transportation and roads. Many women in Pakistani cities are forced to use shabby buses and coaches within their neighbourhoods, rely on male family members to drop them at work or are forced to walk on the streets.
Women are looking for the most reliable, inexpensive and safest way to travel. They feel unsafe on the streets which are not pedestrian-friendly; they are constantly harassed, face verbal abuse, groping, molestation, and sexual harassment. It is imperative that such issues are seriously addressed and our streets and public transportation are made safe for women.
Many women rely heavily on buses and wagons or use rickshaws. There is little acceptance of women riding motorbikes or bicycles unlike many Asian countries despite being unable to afford cars. They continue to face exorbitant fares especially for multiple trips. A recent reprieve has been ride-hailing online companies but many women particularly from lower backgrounds don’t have easy access to them.
Despite allocating separate sections and buses, women still complain of staff behavior – particularly male bus conductors or drivers. It has been an arduous task finding female drivers or bus conductors. Projects like the Pink Bus were not financially viable either. Transports experts state that women-only buses are not the panacea to the transportation crisis and merely a short-term solution.
According to an IMF study, Pakistan can boost its GDP by 30 percent by involving more women into the economy. In an ideal world, public transportation should be gender-less, affordable, run on time, and women passengers should feel safe during their commute.
The reality is that governments are still struggling to make secure public transportation for women. It is high time Pakistan provides decent, comfortable, and safe transportation to women allowing them to play their part in our society.