Going pink to empower Pakistani women

The Pink Rickshaw initiative is an exclusive transport service for women, and it aims to help women escape harassment by male rickshaw drivers.
The Pink Rickshaw initiative is an exclusive transport service for women, and it aims to help women escape harassment by male rickshaw drivers.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LAHORE (Pakistan) • The streets of the Pakistani city of Lahore were "tickled pink" last Saturday, when a group of women staged a rose-coloured "rickshaw rally" for female empowerment.

Driven by female representatives from local social groups and charities, the bright pink, covered three-wheeled motorcycles zipped through the city in a bid to highlight the challenges faced by Pakistani women.

The project is the brainchild of Ms Zar Aslam, president of non-profit Environment Protection Fund, who launched the service exclusively for women after years of being harassed by male rickshaw drivers.

"We started this Pink Rickshaw initiative to empower women," she told Agence France-Presse after leading the rally from an upmarket residential complex to the city's main Quaid-e-Azam library. "What we are doing is we are trying to help women become entrepreneurs and operators and owners of their own rickshaws."

Pakistan's conservative Muslim culture means women still face many social taboos in their daily life - including everything from the way they dress to the kind of jobs they can do. While times are gradually changing, it is still rare to see a woman driving a rickshaw or taxi, but drivers in Saturday's rally said they hope to change that.

"It will definitely make a big difference and that's the point," said driver Mina Malik-Hussain. "There has to be an opportunity and this scheme is creating opportunity for women."

Women commuting on Pakistan's public transport are routinely subject to sexual harassment. According to one study, 85 per cent of working women travelling in the city of Karachi said they had been harassed by drivers and fellow passengers, making services like the pink rickshaws a welcome step.

Women-only transport services like the pink rickshaws are not unique to Pakistan.

In India, ladies-only train compartments are normal, and exclusive compartments for women have been reserved on the Delhi Metro.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2015, with the headline 'Going pink to empower Pakistani women'. Print Edition | Subscribe