LAHORE, Pakistan – Pakistan has one of the worst track records in the world when it comes to the treatment of women. Rudeness, lewdness and harassment are the norm for women traveling without a male companion. Recent efforts to give women a foothold in the professional world have been stymied by the hazards women face commuting to and from work. A new, all female transit company may soon change that.
Lahore native Zar Aslam has decided to do something about the troubles women face when traveling. Aslam, who is the CEO and founder of the Environment Protection Fund, has recently started working on the Pink Rickshaw Initiative. The Initiative is a rickshaw company with only women drivers who give rides to exclusively female passengers. The goal is to give women a way to get to work and school safe from harassment, while simultaneously giving women a foothold in the male-dominated public transportation industry.
The plan is simple. Women who wish to become drivers fill out an application and are interviewed in their homes to assess their needs. Once she obtains her driver’s license, she can begin driving her own rickshaw. Because the pink rickshaws are property of the drivers, not the company, most women take out a loan to buy their vehicles. The loans can be paid off in monthly installments over two years, and the earnings from her new job help cover them.
“One rickshaw costs 300,000 rupees [£3,250], therefore it cannot be done without sponsorship from donors,” Aslam said. “We will lease out the rickshaws to deserving females on easy installment. We will teach them driving and will also help them get the driving license.”
Unlike traditional taxi and rickshaw companies, the women who drive for Pink Rickshaw are not given set hours to work or wages to charge. Instead, they decide when, where and for how long they want to drive. Drivers are free to set their own rates, as long as they cover the monthly installment for their loan.
The rickshaws, which are painted bright pink and have doors for added privacy and security, stand out even in heavy traffic. The reception has been mixed. Proponents have applauded the Pink Rickshaw Initiative as a great opportunity to give women job opportunity and safety. Critics have pointed out that the conspicuous rickshaws could be easy targets for attacks.
Aslam has acknowledged that the bright color make them visible, but adds, “If there are people going to target women it’s going to happen regardless of whether they’re standing outside waiting for a rickshaw, waiting for a car, in a bus, in a blue rickshaw, or a pink rickshaw.”
The Pink Rickshaw Initiative is only a small step toward gender equality in Pakistan, but it is not an insignificant one. It will provide many women a way to get to and from work quickly and safely, without the need for a male escort. Jobs for women are widely considered one of the most important parts of a country’s development. The Pink Rickshaws may have only just started their engines, but they are on the right track.
– Marina Middleton
Sources: MIC, The Guardian, Tribune, PBS