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Saima Jabbar

The writer is an associate producer in a private TV channel. [email protected]

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Hilal Her

Beyond Boundaries: Improving Female Mobility in Pakistan’s Public Transport Networks

April 2024

In a rapidly progressing society, the role of women is indispensable. Yet, one crucial aspect that often obstructs women’s participation is ease of mobility. Sonia, a bright and ambitious young woman, had always dreamt of building a successful career in the lively city of Karachi. Armed with a degree in business administration, she secured a promising job at a reputable company in the heart of the city. However, her excitement soon turned into frustration as she struggled to commute to work due to the inadequate public transportation system. Living in a suburb on the outskirts of Karachi, Sonia found herself at the mercy of unreliable and overcrowded buses, often spending hours waiting at bus stops or sitting cramped in crowded vehicles. The daily commute took a toll on her physical and mental wellbeing, leaving her exhausted and demotivated even before she reached the office.



Despite her determination to persevere, Sonia’s job performance began to suffer as she struggled to balance the demands of work with the challenges of commuting. The long hours spent in transit left her with little time for rest or personal development, and she soon found herself falling behind her peers. Faced with intensifying stress and declining prospects, Sonia was left with no choice but to resign from her job, reluctantly bidding farewell to her dreams of professional success. The lack of reliable public transportation had robbed her of the opportunity to pursue her ambitions and build a better future for herself and her family.
Sonia’s story is an emotional reminder of the profound impact that inadequate transportation infrastructure can have on women’s lives and livelihoods. Despite her qualifications and determination, she was frustrated by a system that failed to provide her with the basic means of mobility needed to access opportunities and fulfill her potential. Sonia’s case is indicative of the numerous women who are adversely impacted by the inadequate transportation system within Pakistan. Women rely on accessible and secure transportation systems to effectively navigate their daily routines, participate in educational activities, and engage in employment opportunities.
In Pakistan, where societal norms and infrastructural limitations have historically posed challenges to female mobility, the evolution of the public transport system holds immense significance. For women, safety concerns often overshadow the convenience of public transportation. Instances of harassment, both verbal and physical, remain prevalent, deterring many from utilizing these services. 



Accessibility remains another significant barrier, particularly in rural areas where transportation options are limited. Moreover, the affordability of public transport is a crucial factor, especially for women from the marginalized communities. Initiatives aimed at subsidizing fares or providing targeted assistance can alleviate financial constraints, enabling greater access to transportation for women across socio-economic strata. 
Cultural norms also play a pivotal role in shaping women’s mobility patterns. Societal expectations often dictate women’s movements, restricting their autonomy and freedom to travel independently. It is essential to prioritize investments in accessible and reliable public transportation systems that empower women like Sonia to participate fully in the workforce and contribute to the nation’s growth. Only then can we ensure that no woman is forced to sacrifice her dreams due to the lack of transportation options. By improving connectivity to educational institutions and workplaces, women can pursue their aspirations and contribute to economic growth and social development. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) report of 2014 highlights significant impact on female mobility due to harassment in public spaces and on public transport. 31% of students, 23% of working women and 20% of homemakers decreased the use of public transport. 40% restricted traveling after sunset, which reduced their chances of employability.
The public transport system in Pakistan, despite its shortcomings, is gradually adapting to accommodate the diverse needs of the public. However, the experiences of women navigating these systems reveal both progress and persistent hurdles. Pakistan has implemented several initiatives to address these concerns, some of which are particularly noteworthy. For example, the Sindh government, in January 2023, introduced the country’s first ever Pink People’s Bus Service in Karachi catering exclusively to women. Similarly, in October 2022, the government of Gilgit-Baltistan launched a women-only public transport scheme in ten districts. These developments represent a noteworthy stride in the right direction. Enhancing female mobility is not just about facilitating physical movement but also empowering women to participate more actively in society. Listed below are some of the measures that could be implemented to mitigate the obstacles to women’s mobility within Pakistan.
Gender Segregated Spaces
Although there are few seats dedicated to women in public transport, they are not enough to cater to the needs of the burgeoning female population of Pakistan. Many developed countries have designated gender segregated spaces or women-only sections on public transport vehicles to ensure the safety and comfort of female passengers. Pakistan can implement similar measures to provide women with a safe and secure environment while traveling. This can involve designating specific seating areas for women or allocating separate compartments on buses and trains.
Enhanced Safety Measures
Developed countries often employ various safety measures to protect passengers, particularly women, from harassment. Pakistan can implement similar measures, such as installing CCTV cameras on public transport vehicles, deploying security personnel, and establishing hotlines for reporting incidents of harassment on public transport. Additionally, providing training for drivers and staff on how to respond to incidences of harassment can help create a safer environment for female passengers.
Accessibility Improvements
Developed countries prioritize accessibility in their public transport systems, making them more inclusive for passengers with disabilities or mobility impairments. Pakistan can learn from these examples by investing in infrastructure improvements, such as installing ramps, elevators, tactile paving, etc., to ensure that public transport services are accessible to all passengers, regardless of their physical abilities.



Education and Awareness Campaigns
Developed countries often conduct education and awareness campaigns to promote gender equality and combat harassment on public transport. Pakistan can implement similar campaigns to raise awareness about the rights of female passengers, educate the public about appropriate behavior and respect for women, and provide information on how to report incidents of harassment. These campaigns can help shift societal attitudes and norms surrounding women’s mobility and safety.
Technological Integration
Many developed countries leverage technology to enhance the convenience and safety of public transport services for passengers. Pakistan can explore the use of mobile apps for trip planning and real-time tracking of buses and trains, as well as implementing cashless payment systems to improve efficiency and security. Additionally, incorporating panic buttons or emergency alert systems on public transport vehicles can provide an added layer of safety for female passengers.
Collaboration with Stakeholders 
Finally, Pakistan can benefit from consulting with relevant stakeholders, including women’s rights organizations, advocacy groups, and community leaders, to develop gender-sensitive policies and initiatives for public transport. By engaging with diverse stakeholders, Pakistan can ensure that the needs and concerns of female passengers are adequately addressed and incorporated into the planning and implementation of public transport systems.
By adopting these strategies and learning from the best practices of developed countries, Pakistan can create a more inclusive, safe, and accessible public transport system that meets the needs of all passengers, including women. The journey towards enhancing female mobility within Pakistan’s public transport system is multifaceted, requiring concerted efforts from all segments of society. By addressing safety concerns, improving accessibility and affordability, challenging societal norms, leveraging technology, promoting education and employment opportunities, Pakistan can create an environment where women can thrive and contribute meaningfully to the nation’s progress. Together, we can strive towards building a more inclusive and empowering society for all.



 

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Saima Jabbar

The writer is an associate producer in a private TV channel. [email protected]

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