Poor Safety And Availability Of Public Transport Reduces Women's Labor Force Participation

Poor Safety And Availability Of Public Transport Reduces Women's Labor Force Participation
Only two out of 10 women are part of the labor force in Pakistan; which is below countries with similar income levels. This reduced participation in the labor force leads to increased poverty and a penalty in the GDP for the country. Time and again, this crisis has been attributed to a lack of transport systems, which amplifies barriers pertaining to women’s mobility.

Public transport systems were deregulated in 1980s by the Pakistani government. Today, transportation services within cities provided mostly by private operators, and the government plays a supervisory role in regulating fare charges and route licensing. Private transport operators try to maximize their revenues by deploying low cost, small size vehicles. The transport authorities fail to administer the standard and efficiency of the public transport system, due to a shortage of institutional capacity required to monitor individual transport operators. Although this affects both men and women, however women are impacted more significantly, as their mobility is gendered, and presents an in terms of privacy and safety.

Access to  toilets for women near bus stations and roads is a major factor that restricts their mobility, and those that are available are in horrible condition. This limits women to certain areas and places, which reduces employment opportunities. Karachi, which is the most populous city of Pakistan has only 17 toilets for travelers on main highways. These toilets are used frequently without proper sanitation and become breeding ground for diseases and are eventually rendered inoperational. Women are thus restricted from traveling to farther areas or are forced to share lavatories with men, where the chances of them being harassed or assaulted rise.

The travel patterns of women and their understanding of safety is greatly shaped by norms, both social and cultural. In a survey of 1,000 households in Lahore conducted by the Center for Economic Research in Pakistan (CERP), it was found that 70% of men would not encourage their female family members to use public wagons (Sajjad et al., 2017). Social norms pertaining to women coming in close contact with unknown men and the stigma and distress associated with it restricts women’s use of public transport.

A dearth of women-only transport services, which only cover a narrow geographical area, are restricted in their timings, restrict transport options for female commuters substantially. Women are disproportionately more reliant on public transport than men, because more affordable means of transport such as motor bikes and bicycles are considered taboo due to arcane social norms.

Gender based contrasts in women for traveling time and purpose have been  attributed to the sociocultural requirement of them getting permission, having to veil and needing a chaperone. Women also have to stay cautious between bus stops, while traveling to stations and on sidewalks to protect their privacy and avoid harassment.

Women in the densely populated area of Karachi have no mass public transportation available to them, hence many have started using ride hailing services such as Bykea, which provide low cost transportation on motorbikes in comparison to taxis and rickshaws, which have skyrocketing fares. As a result of buses and rickshaws being overcrowded, many women have taken the leap of faith by learning how to drive two wheelers. Although owning a motorcycle is a cost effective option, it is not a sustainable solution according to many urban planners and policy makers. Rather, it is believed that the expansion and improvement of existing public transport systems is the more appropriate long-term fix for improving accessibility for women.

In lieu of the above circumstances, the stark difference between the mobility needs of women and men is evident, and without government support these issues cannot be effectively resolved. The government should make it mandatory for transport staff to be trained on sexual harassment prevention and how to make women feel comfortable. Women should have designated seating with proper segregation and separate entry and exit doors. Installing street lights and CCTV surveillance near bus stops, and inside buses can also reduce the risks associated with travelling at night. Most importantly female only transport services should expand their routes and timings, so that working women can avail these services.

Even though the dream of a safe society for women remains a pipe dream in Pakistan, the least that the government can do is make it safer for women to navigate the cities in which they live and work. Improving women’s participation in the workforce is a key prerequisite to a prosperous Pakistan.