Opinion News
June 13,2015

Safety and gender

Asna Ali
An announcement by the Karachi police, making the wearing of helmets mandatory for motorbike drivers and pillion riders was welcome news. The use of protective gear is known to reduce the number of fatalities in accidents that are frequent in the unruly traffic of our country. Initially, women were not exempt from the rule but following protests and complaints, the authorities decided to relax the rule for female pillion riders.
Are we to assume then that separate safety rules apply to men and women? And that women should be allowed to not wear protective gear because it is not fashionable or looks ‘odd? Once a person is injured or loses their life in a road accident it doesn’t really matter how they looked at the time.
Granted, a helmet would be difficult to manage with the dupattas, scarves or abayas that cover the heads of most Pakistani females but a head injury is even harder to manage. Should we just leave off the idea of safety for women on the roads until every family in Pakistan is able to afford a car?
We are quick to judge the government and its sometimes ill-planned decisions that fail to take ground realities into account. However, it must be admitted that the Pakistani public is in the habit of flouting the law and bending the rules however we see fit. We cite laws only when useful to us; and a general lack of civic sense prevails.
The lack of implementation of traffic rules and regulations cannot only be blamed on the police or the government. In general, the Pakistani traffic consists of people suffering from chronic road rage that makes them point out flaws in everyone else’s driving but their own. Helmets, seatbelts and airbags are thought to be a sign of weakness or lack of faith. And now we have this gender-centric watering down of safety regulations.
Anyone who has been out on the roads of Pakistan as a driver or passenger can attest to the complete lack of order that prevails and the high number of accidents that could have been avoided simply by following the rules. Most people have been involved in serious accidents or know someone who has either lost their life or become disabled in a traffic accident. Therefore, our public cannot use the plea of ignorance when it comes to violating traffic regulations and not using protective gear.
Neither are these incidents limited to men only. There are fewer women on the road at any given time but they too end up hurt or dead in accidents. So why should safety regulations be relaxed for them just because wearing helmets is uncomfortable? Being dead is a lot worse.
This is the kind of public demand that is completely unreasonable and should not be entertained. Introducing any sort of safety regulation in a culture where safety is not a priority is hard work. Such regulations inevitably come at some cost and require effort but are beneficial in the long run. This argument, however, does not work well in places where immediate gratification or avoidance of immediate discomfort takes precedence over future gains.
However, the authorities should not just roll over and take back what was a good decision without at least trying to implement it in ways that might be more amenable to the public. Perhaps it’s time to initiate public service announcements aimed at women telling them that their lives are just as important as those of men and that the problems or ridicule they might face wearing a helmet are worth bearing to avoid injury and loss of life.
The writer is a business studies graduate from southern Punjab.
Email: asna.ali90

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