THE public space is hardly a safe place for women in Pakistan. Whether it is markets, workplaces or similar venues, women face harassment on a daily basis, which can range from unwanted stares and lewd comments to much worse. The public transport sphere is not immune to this disturbing reality. Countless women in urban Pakistan travelling to work, school or for any other purpose have to put up with crude and disturbing behaviour everyday. One attempt to address this dilemma has been the introduction of women-only transport options in some places. As reported in this paper on Thursday, the KP transport department, with support from the UN and the Japanese government, plans to introduce a women’s bus service in Peshawar, Mardan and Abbottabad. Moreover, a foreign taxi service has recently launched women drivers in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. In 2012, Lahore had introduced women-only ‘pink buses’.
If women are to work, study and participate in all areas of national life, it is essential that they have access to a safe and harassment-free transportation system. While it is true that segregation of the sexes is no solution to the problem, until public spaces in Pakistan are deemed safe for women, efforts need to be made to provide secure transport options. Lahore’s pink buses were reportedly not popular with women and therefore faced financial problems. Perhaps a greater effort needs to be made to publicise women-only transport options so that women commuters know there are alternatives. But the ultimate solution is, of course, making public space safe for women. This is, arguably, a long-term project that would require many male Pakistanis to shed their regressive attitudes towards women. Men need to be told in clear terms that women have an equal right to public space, including transportation, and that harassment will result in legal consequences. While women-only transport options should be tried, more effort needs to be made by the state to ensure women commuters have a hassle-free experience on existing transport.