The launch of a female-only rickshaw taxi service in the city of Punjab Chakwal is breaking barriers and challenging gender stereotypes for women and girls in Pakistan.
The new all-female initiative, launched by Plan International, is providing the passengers that use it with a level of safety and security that, until now, had been hard to find. The drivers’ vibrant pink rickshaws are enabling those who use them to feel safer as they travel through their city.
Drivers and passengers are gaining more confidence, more independence, and claiming a new position on the road – a position in Pakistan that is dominated by men.
“Traditionally, driving has been considered taboo for women in conservative areas of Pakistan,” said Gauhar Iqbal, Plan advocacy and communications coordinator in Pakistan. “It is estimated that less than five percent of women own a driver’s license here. “As a result, they have little option but to ride by rickshaw taxi to work and school and, sadly, they face harassment and bullying along the way. The only way they can avoid this is if they are accompanied by their husbands, fathers, or brothers. So, their freedom of movement is severely restricted and this affects their ability to work. According to the International Labor Organization, three quarters of women in Pakistan don’t work, and this is largely due to the lack of safe transportation options they have between their homes and potential workplaces.”
The female drivers are also excellent role models for young girls who aspire to earn an income someday.v The drivers are able to take between 10 and 12 women to their destination each day, and they already have some regular customers. They can earn up to 300 rupees ($3 USD) in a day which, although still a meager wage, is an important supplement, and a step away from being confined to their homes and wholly dependent on their families for their livelihood.
This is particularly critical in Punjab Chakwal, where women hold a much lower economic status than men. They own less land and have less involvement and influence in decision-making.
However, with the drivers already making the headlines and proving popular at home, social attitudes towards women could soon begin to change and the discrimination they face could finally, one day, be a thing of the past.
Determined to make a difference and to further the rights of women and girls in her country, driver Najm Un Nisa said that receiving the keys to her rickshaw for the first time was a very important day in her life.
“I feel socially and economically empowered,” she said. But at the same time, I wonder what people will say. I am determined to drive the rickshaw and to change the community. I feel honored to be a role model for girls in my community.” Bali Rani, another rickshaw driver was motivated to earn her own income.
“I belong to a gypsy community and have two children,” she said. “I used to beg on the streets. I was not aware of the kind of life that I was living until Plan told me about becoming a driver. The service offered me a decent and respectful way to earn an income and meet my children’s expenses. Now I aim to support my family and provide an education for my children.”
The idea for the rickshaw taxi service first emerged in Lahore. It was later replicated by Plan. The organization, which aims to advance children’s rights and equality for girls, hopes to expand the service to other districts, thereby employing and empowering more women to become drivers and giving freedom of movement to hundreds more who can now safely travel through their cities without fear of bullying and street harassment.