Public transport: A reflection of gender discrimination

A few days before his PML-N took over in Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif said they will “gift” a metro bus service to the people of Karachi. I wondered how much a difference it would make to the lives of several women who use public transportation to their offices, schools or colleges and back home. Unfortunately, there is no much sense of understanding among national government agencies or transport companies regarding women needs. And even the most recently started projects such as the Metro Bus Service in Lahore lacks proper facilities for the women passengers. The managing authorities of Metro Bus Service in Lahore in February 2013 and Shahbaz Sharif’s Punjab Government seemed to have shown indifference and complete negligence to the needs of women travellers. piconeThey only have a few seats reserved for women in the public buses. Such actions show that still women are not given considerable importance even in mega projects within provinces like in Punjab. This situation is a clear picture of our society which, we can say, is gender blind. Without safe and reliable public transport, nearly half of our population, women are effectively rendered immobile and unable to participate in social or economic activity. Gazdar (2003) argues that among several other challenges regarding unequal distribution of resources between male and female, in Pakistan women access to public spaces, their mobility, their visibility and their perception in public life are restricted. Women constitute 51 percent of the country’s population, yet they barely contribute to its economy (Population Association of Pakistan-Statistics, 2002). Women mobility, in urban areas of Pakistan, is linked with public transportation as they mostly travel through public transport to reach their destinations (i.e. schools/colleges/universities and work places). Public transport for women in urban Pakistan is very inefficient and insecure to women’s needs. The Urban Resource Centre in Karachi that has surveys and interviews of female commuters. Reading them, one feels that these women deserve medals of bravery just for the act of getting to work or school every day. There are thousands of stories, told and untold, of harassment on public transport, of loss of opportunities by women due to lack of proper transport facilities and of cases of school dropouts of girls due to the fact that their families believe the public transport was inadequate and unsafe. As a female commuter, I have personal experiences of uncomfortable travel due to inappropriate behavior of the bus conductor or male commuters onboard the bus, while using public transport to attend college. And many of my friends share several experiences of harsh incidences of using the public transport, where they say they had to bear verbal and physical harassment by staff and other male passengers. At times, waiting for hours and hours on the bus stop, being stared by the male, being approached by guys saying stupid things or even to the extent of getting offers of a lift by lonely car drivers or bike riders, is nothing less than an ordeal that keeps happening routinely. And the worst part of it is, to wake up every morning thinking of the entire ordeal to be faced all over again, but unfortunately the responsible citizen of the society totally ignore this problem and never feel the anguish we feel as female commuters. Gender issues in mobility are vastly ignored in Pakistan. Public transportation is inherently safer in terms of traffic accidents than private transport, but for women, who mostly rely on public transportation more than men, public transport is less safe in terms of harassment by the bus staff or the male commuters. Despite the evidence that public transport is not meeting the respect, safety and security needs of women, women´s safety is not a priority for the majority of transport providers and the government. pictwoAccording to surveys conducted in some of the major cities, using public transportation due to harassment becomes extremely difficult for girls who have to use it to go to jobs or to schools and colleges. These are the remarks of Kundi (Pakistan Today, 2011), as heard from women using public transport in Islamabad, “The nuisance for them is caused by foul mouthed drivers who with their vulgar remarks and blatant and brazen stares make travelling for women a painful experience. Street sexual harassment for a woman in public transport is similar to claustrophobia because she feels trapped in a small place with fear of no escape until she reaches her destination. If a bus or train is crowded or if a woman is sitting by the window and the man harassing or assaulting her is sitting behind her, she cannot scream or raise her voice since most of the women do not want to get people’s attention in cases like these.” Imagine the agony of such experiences felt by women on a daily basis. It hurts to the lover of their existence. Men will never be able to “feel” this pain. The first step toward making public transportation safer for women and girls is holding transportation providers accountable for providing enough space for the females and for making their systems safer for women: from national government agencies and city planners to bus drivers and city police. Secondly, larger and safer spaces in the public transport for women may be a good solution. Larger and better spaces demand maybe put forward. For example, transport authorities should recognize the gender differences and needs of their ridership and safe public transportation be provided to women of all socio-economic classes. Further, the government must be held accountable for providing safe transport to women and transport providers be held accountable for acts of violence against women who use public transport. Additionally, public transport providers include women in their transportation planning process in order to address and meet their needs. Thirdly, apart from a good government infrastructure, an integrated approach maybe proposed in which inter-sectorial collaboration of all ministries/departments can lead to a more sustained transportation system to cater to the needs of female passengers. Another significant measure could involve educating the drivers, conductors, transport owners, transport unions, and members of the traffic police, about the problems females face on public transportation through media of all types. These steps may also, directly and indirectly influence girls’ enrollment, in schools, colleges and universities, one the one hand, and encourage more women to come out of houses and contribute to the betterment of society, rather than remaining a burden on male members of the family or society. In short, being sensitive to female commuters’ needs and their dignity is an important and urgent issue. Responsible ground and public transport runners need to reflect on this vital human issue and help improve the transport facilities for women. Equal rights and opportunities for both female and male in the society, especially in public transportation, will contribute to the development, image and well- being of the country. (June 7, 2013). Kousar Khushwali is a student of Master of Science Teacher Education at the Aga Khan University, Institute for Educational Development, Karachi.  ]]>

5 Replies to “Public transport: A reflection of gender discrimination”

  1. Of late I have regularly come across a number of articles in this online newspaper written by AKU IED scholars on different issues like gender, education and also transportation and women. I appreciate the writers for sharing their work and expertise with us. It gives us a chance to benefit from the writings of these highly educated and experienced teachers and educators. Well done, keep it up.

  2. Well written and well articulated article. The reflection of the author is quite strong on the existing condition of public transportation with respect to women. The article opens new ways for the whole society in general and concerned authorities in particular to look at the issue and to take steps. Thank you for sharing it Kousar Khushwali

  3. The issues you have raised are genuine. You have rightly justified the argument to make it reader friendly.
    Let’s think on the images you have put. both the images show harassment. But what is HARASSMENT? Irrational harassment by women itself is a gender biased sensation in the society. Not every man is greedy of women which most women think.
    The first image, on the other hand, shows that women are given comfortable space while men are standing! Isn’t it gender biased (or provision of gender equity)? The second image is self-explanatory – such an excitement of the driver may cause reckless driving.

  4. Kausar! You have sketched a very fascinating portrait of a common issue which every woman in the country faces. Your ideas are really provoking and will add a voice to the favour of women’s rights across the country.

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