Friday June 14, 2024

Women on the move

By Editorial Board
February 03, 2023

The Frere Hall lawns in Karachi gladly hosted the inauguration ceremony of Pink People’s Bus Service launched by the Sindh Mass Transit Authority on Wednesday (Feb 1). The service is a step in the right direction and will go a long way in helping women enter the labour market and become financially independent. At present, women’s participation in the workforce in Pakistan is the lowest in the world – at 23 per cent, according to data released by the World Bank in 2019. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the state of public transport in Karachi has been terrible. That coupled with the inevitable harassment women face when in public has led many women to either stay at home and look for remote working options or spend a major chunk of their salaries on commuting. For students, unsafe public buses mean that they cannot take admission in good education institutions across the city. Given the circumstances, it is a good sign that the Sindh government is working towards making a safe transportation system for women. The recently launched women-only bus service will run on a single route for now. Officials have shared that the ‘pink’ buses will have cameras to monitor all activities and ensure women’s safety. One remarkable feature of the buses is women conductors who will play a big role in keeping the buses safe.

While the pink buses are a very timely intervention, one is forced to wonder whether we will forever be needing such segregated initiatives or whether our governments will work towards ensuring that the public sphere becomes safe enough for women to not need such support. Sexual harassment on public transport is a big issue, and yet authorities have not taken any meaningful measures to put an end to such incidents. With a government-backed bus service, women will enjoy some level of security and safety. Also, in the past, we have seen how women travelling in motorcycle-rickshaws, rickshaws, and motorcycles were harassed and filmed by men. A dedicated bus service will allow women to travel without constantly worrying about this.

However, it is also important for the government to realize that these measures are short-term and stop-gap solutions. We do need to create an environment where women can feel safe wherever they are – at bus stops, inside male-dominated buses, and other public spaces. Women-only compartments are a relief, but they cannot protect women against the sexual harassment they face on a daily basis. There have to be initiatives where men and women work together freely without any fear. For now, though, one hopes the pink bus is expanded beyond one route and our girls and women can finally commute without constantly looking over their shoulder.