A new government initiative is allowing women in Pakistan to sit in the driver’s seat both literally and figuratively. The Pink Rickshaw is giving women more opportunities for employment, as well as offer an option that is considered safe from harassment and violence.
The city of Lahore, in the province of Punjab has created a fleet of pinked-out rickshaws, a common mode of transport in the country as well as many other Asian nations such as India, and are only offering the driver jobs to women. The idea was created to help women in lower socio-economic areas to provide extra income for their families, by driving around a female-only customer base.
“The visibility of ‘The Pink Rickshaw; Putting Women in the Driving Seat’ will revolutionize how women are perceived in the public space in Pakistan, encouraging other women to follow suit as drivers and enter into other male-dominated professions/trades or as service providers,” says a description on the crowd-funding campaign page for the program.
“Thus, the initiative’s effect will perpetuate a virtuous cycle of women becoming self-reliant independent and productive members of the society.”
They have three main objectives for this program:
- To transform the role & visibility of middle-to-lower working class women in Pakistan to empower them with a means of safe transportation and potential business opportunity to generate income for their families
- To remove the cultural barriers for women that prevent the women from entering into male-dominated profession/ trades or service providers to earn a living.
- To create visible role models for other women to follow suite; awaken a desire in other women from the same strata, where they will see that it is possible for them to also become independent, mobile & active promoters of peace.
Pakistan is still a very male-dominated society, and many middle and lower-class women are culturally expected to rely on fathers, husbands, brothers and sons for almost every aspect of their lives publicly. When women take public transport they often face harassment waiting for buses and rickshaws.
Because of the many social challenges that women face, they are often deterred from entering the workforce and the cycle of poverty and reliance is continued, also due to the lack of female role models empowering each other to do something outside of the the norms.
But the government in Punjab has identified a key demographic, millennial women, who may have the power to break the cycle of oppression.
“Women between the ages of 18-45 have immense potential but not enough tangible opportunities to tap into that potential. We believe that when a project like this is introduced to potential beneficiaries, there will be a huge demand from women who have the wherewithal to step-up to this challenge,” they believe.
“The effect of this very visible and tangible activity of empowered lower-to-middle class women driving Pink Rickshaws on the road will create a desire in other women from the same strata, where they will see that it is possible for them to also become independent, mobile & generate income. That it can be done. Often it is the power of visualization that drives and motivates people to achieve their goals and dreams.”
In the neighboring country of India where the mistreatment of women by the hands of men is common knowledge and a dominant narrative right now, we are seeing a few similar initiatives being created which seek to not only break the cycle of violence and oppression, but also give women the opportunity to be employed and have their own independent means to live.
One of the reasons cited for women having little to no political or legal power to protect themselves is the strict Islamist rule brought on by religious rulers and in some areas, terrorist organizations such as the Taliban who forbid women to be educated or have any sort of public role. And because of this type of subjugation over women, many crimes go unpunished.
“People in Pakistan get away with these kinds of executions of women because of weak laws, contradictory legislation, and the overarching power of jirgas, or extra-judicial tribal court systems which reserve the harshest punishments for women exercising their free will,” said writer Bina Shah to PRI in May 2o13 commenting on a news report about the horrific beating to death of a woman by the hands of her family because she chose to marry the man she loved.
“We have a Protection of Women ordinance, enacted in 2006, which amended the Hudood Ordinances, making rape a crime under the Pakistan Penal Code, and also made it illegal to force a woman to marry, kidnap or sell her into prostitution, and accuse her falsely of adultery or extramarital sex. We also have a bill, enacted in 2004, which makes “honor killing” a crime.”
“However, the 2004 law against “honor killing” is contradicted directly by the Islamic law of Qisas and Diyat, which allows a family of a victim to “forgive” the criminal and lessen the punishment or forgo it altogether. Most criminals use this loophole to get away with their crime.”
There are clearly still many barriers women face in the country tied in with politics and religion. But initiatives like The Pink Rickshaw, if they are a success, prove that there are ways women can try to fight against their oppressors in ways that enable them to be empowered financially, independently, and c0llectively. Perhaps these unique opportunities will be the path to achieving gender equality, by showing authorities how empowering women is not only a must in the 21st century, but it is greatly beneficial to the economy as a whole.