Say no to pink rickshaws, please!

April 5, 2015

Reinforcing segregation to liberate women is a faulty idea that must be resisted

Say no to pink rickshaws, please!

So, the last time I heard there were plans to run a Pink Bus for women, with women as drivers and conductors, and commuters of course. It was a few years ago I guess. Haven’t seen the pink bus ever since or met anyone who claimed to have used it. Somebody tells me there is still one running in the city. I would certainly like to know more.

And now there is this news about Pink Rickshaws exclusively designed for women, meaning they will have doors on either side for the driver’s seat as well. It’s more like a protective casing that will make women invisible to prying eyes.

I presume the journey for these women, from their homes to the pink rickshaw, excludes men and they land into destinations that have no men either -- an all-girls school or college possibly. I can’t imagine a segregated marketplace or office yet. That perhaps is the ultimate aim.

Whoever takes these decisions for women suffers from a plain lack of imagination. The problems women face in this country are rooted in segregation and the solutions that are sought aim at more segregation. It’s incredible how we choose to liberate women by reinforcing segregation.

To start with, I can’t get over how the ‘blue’ and ‘pink’ binary imposed upon us as children is carried on into our adult lives and that too as a political statement. A pink bus and now a pink rickshaw. Every time somebody tries to make women less prominent, they end up becoming more prominent somehow. Let’s see what this garish rickshaw does for them now.

On one level, I can empathise with those who thought of this first. Women’s mobility is indeed a real problem in this society, the biggest social challenge, and one that holds women back. But a solution of this kind is impractical and counterproductive.

It is impractical because there will not be enough women on the roads nor enough pink rickshaws to take them places. This is exactly why the pink buses failed. In a country where there aren’t enough ordinary buses for non-segregated commuters, segregated transport of this kind is not viable.

Even if it does become viable, it will not solve the woman problem in this society. More segregation has not helped improve men’s attitudes towards women or reduced crimes against them and it will not do so in future.

There was a time when there were no separate compartments in buses for women, till the 1970s I believe. Other countries in the region still don’t have them. Over the years we have separated the genders more but women have not started feeling more protected. Their presence in public sphere is shrinking and that’s the first thing to notice even in big metropolises in Pakistan.

I would be the first one to suggest an affirmative action to bring more women out, to have a critical mass of them in public view, in order to change men’s attitudes. Too many women in the public sphere will not be an odd sight anymore. Women in substantial numbers all around, performing academically and professionally, should make a difference.

The television package celebrating the pink rickshaw could not have been more ironic in stating how women are standing shana bashana with men. Change will have to be more inclusive; excluding men from the discourse, or the solutions, will not help.

Ironically again, men and women have been praising the initiative on social media because they see it as an advancement in facilitating the ‘disadvantaged’ woman. They need to look at it a little more critically.

What does not form a part of this discussion is the element of fear that lurks in minds. An ordinary reading of this society might suggest that women here are scared of men. Actually it’s the other way round. It’s the men who are more scared of seeing women around and end up pushing them back to their homes.

We don’t need pink rickshaws. We, both men and women, need to pull this fear out of our minds. That is what we need to do.

Say no to pink rickshaws, please!