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Say no to pink rickshaws, please!

Reinforcing segregation to liberate women is a faulty idea that must be resisted

Say no to pink rickshaws, please!

So, the last time I heard there were plans to run a Pink Bus for women, with women as drivers and conductors, and commuters of course. It was a few years ago I guess. Haven’t seen the pink bus ever since or met anyone who claimed to have used it. Somebody tells me there is still one running in the city. I would certainly like to know more.

And now there is this news about Pink Rickshaws exclusively designed for women, meaning they will have doors on either side for the driver’s seat as well. It’s more like a protective casing that will make women invisible to prying eyes.

I presume the journey for these women, from their homes to the pink rickshaw, excludes men and they land into destinations that have no men either — an all-girls school or college possibly. I can’t imagine a segregated marketplace or office yet. That perhaps is the ultimate aim.

Whoever takes these decisions for women suffers from a plain lack of imagination. The problems women face in this country are rooted in segregation and the solutions that are sought aim at more segregation. It’s incredible how we choose to liberate women by reinforcing segregation.

To start with, I can’t get over how the ‘blue’ and ‘pink’ binary imposed upon us as children is carried on into our adult lives and that too as a political statement. A pink bus and now a pink rickshaw. Every time somebody tries to make women less prominent, they end up becoming more prominent somehow. Let’s see what this garish rickshaw does for them now.

On one level, I can empathise with those who thought of this first. Women’s mobility is indeed a real problem in this society, the biggest social challenge, and one that holds women back. But a solution of this kind is impractical and counterproductive.

It is impractical because there will not be enough women on the roads nor enough pink rickshaws to take them places. This is exactly why the pink buses failed. In a country where there aren’t enough ordinary buses for non-segregated commuters, segregated transport of this kind is not viable.

Even if it does become viable, it will not solve the woman problem in this society. More segregation has not helped improve men’s attitudes towards women or reduced crimes against them and it will not do so in future.

There was a time when there were no separate compartments in buses for women, till the 1970s I believe. Other countries in the region still don’t have them. Over the years we have separated the genders more but women have not started feeling more protected. Their presence in public sphere is shrinking and that’s the first thing to notice even in big metropolises in Pakistan.

I would be the first one to suggest an affirmative action to bring more women out, to have a critical mass of them in public view, in order to change men’s attitudes. Too many women in the public sphere will not be an odd sight anymore. Women in substantial numbers all around, performing academically and professionally, should make a difference.

The television package celebrating the pink rickshaw could not have been more ironic in stating how women are standing shana bashana with men. Change will have to be more inclusive; excluding men from the discourse, or the solutions, will not help.

Ironically again, men and women have been praising the initiative on social media because they see it as an advancement in facilitating the ‘disadvantaged’ woman. They need to look at it a little more critically.

What does not form a part of this discussion is the element of fear that lurks in minds. An ordinary reading of this society might suggest that women here are scared of men. Actually it’s the other way round. It’s the men who are more scared of seeing women around and end up pushing them back to their homes.

We don’t need pink rickshaws. We, both men and women, need to pull this fear out of our minds. That is what we need to do.

23 comments

  • What is the alternative of Pink Rickshaws? That is there should be female rickshaw drivers who take both male and female commuters. But are women willing to do it? No. So how can we build their confidence? By giving them rickshaws and road training and experience taking only female commuters. It’s not segregation. Women rickshaw drivers will be sharing the road space with men. Moreover, it gives them an employment opportunity. If the colour pink bothers you so much, the women rickshaw drivers will paint it white or red or green. It’s as simple as that.

    • strict enforcement of law can protect them, rule of law is the replacement of pink rikshaw

  • I’ll agree only if my son is allowed to break the segregation and admitted to prestigious girls’ Mount Holyoke College.

  • “… ,there aren’t any transport facilities available. That is one area where I would suggest that the government and non-government sector need to take affirmative action and facilitate the mobility of women.”

    These were your words recently; however I agree to this point of view; social narrative needs to be revisited for change of mindset both in men and women.

  • We need to change our mind sets of course.

  • Lovely Pink Rickshaw

    Why are you so against me? I’m just a rickshaw dressed up differently from my male colleagues…do you wear a suit and tie to work? I just want to be known for who I am – could have been red or orange but those are fiery colors. And what’s in a colour anyway as you say? Meaningless! Why so mad then?

    • Why so mad? First you denying employment and service to males due to harrasment. All males. Do all males harrass?
      Ill make it clearer with a hypothetical case, females are the majority of primary school teacher. Also females commit majority of the child abuse as well. Now if someone makes a school, that denies females teacher because they are all child beaters, and then asks the government and public for their unconditional support, how much would this anti male Zar Aslam support it!?
      Furthermore, it will ENCOURAGE more harassment. Firstly, it will be quite easy for all the perverts to spot where the women are. Secondly, when young men see that harrassment is considered a part of masculinity, they were try to live up to their expectations. We should be encouraging positive male and female role models. It is very unfortunate that my parents cannot give me an example of one good Pakistani role model ideal for me, or any Pakistani youth. We strive to be those idiots in dumb desi movies and dramas rather than decent human beings. Our definitions of masculinity and femininity should and must be changed. Also, gender segregation highlights the very few differences between men and women, which leads to stereotyping which leads to inequality.

      I would suggest a well covered gender neutral rickshaw and good Pakistani role models for our youth are what we need, rather than segregation and man bashing. Zar Aslam herself has said that she would feel safer with a female stranger rather than a male stranger. This shows how she views males in general. The next time I go to Pakistan I would sue the hell out of them.

  • I personally do not take this as segregation – the same kind of scheme is available in Dubai where Pink Taxis are available for women to ride in if they feel more comfortable that way and the drivers are also all female. Again, it is their choice and is presented as an alternative to riding in a normal taxi if women so desire. If Pink taxis are available for women here as a choice then why not?

    • It is acceptable to provide them in order to fulfill religious obligations etc, but to say that this is being done because ALL males harass is down right sexism.

  • Farah, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. You are very right in identifying so many issues related to segregation of men and women; this will not solve the problems but will further enhance them.

    These term “pink”, “feminism” and “woman rights” have become so much powerful for the “NGOs” to collect money to “empower” the women of this bedraggled, tron and horrible society in general and in particular when it comes down to dealing with women rights!

    Very well written!!

    • Kindly provide alternatives to support your arguments. What should a society do to make life easier for working women. It is quite easy to be negative of an initiative taken but it is quite difficult to come up with with something else to support your argument and then carry it through.

      • I do have an alternative. I think segregation leads to differences, which leads to inequality. We should start by co education. Then we should stop addressing males and females separately. All laws, institutions and workplaces should be gender neutral, and all “quotas” should be abolished. I will give another example.
        In Pakistan, the senate has reserved seats for women and minorities. I think it is showign everyone that women need special favors in order to achieve these posts, and makes them appear less competent than their male counterparts.
        I am a 16 year old high school student who moved to Canada from Pakistan at the age of 15. I’ve studied in a co ed school till grade 9. I’ve also for a small time studied in an all boys school. And believe it o not, those who have always been studying in co schools view females just as good/bad/competitive/worth as males.
        To sum up, such segregation is still pointless. We must change our mentality.
        Even though this is long term, we should start now.
        I am willing to debate this as well if you wish.
        I also mean well for everyone.
        Thank you for reading.

  • Lets have non segregated toilets as well? shut down all girls colleges in Oxford

    you are confused and allowed to write for a newspapers – thats dangerous!

  • Not about segregation but about providing equal opportunity to women to earn a living and to get into fields typically dominated by men.

    I wonder if the writer uses public transport for her daily commute to work/school and for other daily chores. Or is she from the privileged class blind to the lack of, inadequate and unsafe public transportation issues faced by the less privileged women in Pakistan.

    I am an independent woman. I do not believe in segregation. I’m not comfortable taking public transport because of harassment and other inconveniences that come with it.
    For me owning a rickshaw is a great alternative. And yes I feel safer giving rides to other women as opposed to an unknown male rider. Is there a problem with that? Must we put a negative spin to everything positive?

    • I agree and second this argument

    • I do have an alternative. I think segregation leads to differences, which leads to inequality. We should start by co education. Then we should stop addressing males and females separately. All laws, institutions and workplaces should be gender neutral, and all “quotas” should be abolished. I will give another example.
      In Pakistan, the senate has reserved seats for women and minorities. I think it is showign everyone that women need special favors in order to achieve these posts, and makes them appear less competent than their male counterparts.
      I am a 16 year old high school student who moved to Canada from Pakistan at the age of 15. I’ve studied in a co ed school till grade 9. I’ve also for a small time studied in an all boys school. And believe it o not, those who have always been studying in co schools view females just as good/bad/competitive/worth as males.
      To sum up, such segregation is still pointless. We must change our mentality.
      Even though this is long term, we should start now.
      I am willing to debate this as well if you wish.
      I also mean well for everyone.
      Thank you for reading.

    • And by saying that you feel safer by giving ride to unknown female over an unknown male is clearly discrimination. Its in everyone’s best interests to change our mindsets as a people.

  • Reading the comments above, one understands why this article was written in the first place. Just a few facts here for clarification. One, rickshaw is not a sawari for the really underprivileged as many people would like to think. It’s an expensive mode of transport compared to public buses or vans. Two, of all public transports, a normal rickshaw is one where you experience the least harassment (and I do a lot of it so don’t tell me it isn’t). Three, it’s an initiative by an NGO and not the government and therefore may not be able to provide ‘opportunities’ of the scale imagined by people. Four, for all those who see this as an affirmative action to bring more women out should also endorse this argument raised in favour of women wearing abaya and burqa (somebody called this rickshaw a “mobile purdah”).
    I don’t understand why people are comparing it to segregated toilets or educational institutions. A pink rickshaw plying on the roads makes a statement about a society. It sends a signal to women that outside this rickshaw they are unsafe and to men it says you are villains.
    Some time ago, the Pervez Ilahi government brought women traffic wardens on the roads and it was a great idea. But where did all those women wardens go? We need to find out.

    • So if we do not have pink Rickshaws for Women what is the alternative to Transportation for women . ? Specially in a city like Karachi which has the most urban working women and the most negligible transportation facility for women .

  • The issue highlighted by the writer is very impotent for example government of Punjab very publicized the services of pink bus but this services is total failed. The segregation of women only in intercity buses, like metro, deawoo, and Lahore transport have very small portion for women, van in which only two front seat reserve for women but some time male passengers are loaded on front seat. But out station transport services like railway, Air service and buses has not segregation between male and female. the segregation stated between male and female during Zia regime and still continue. some fanatic did’not gave permission to play music. even though when i travel from Lahore to my native town by bus, i enjoyed music sung by folk singes i.e. Attaullah “way bool sanwal na rooli sanoo”…..

  • Why have seperate toilets even?? This is a positive step in the supporting women emancipation. Do you have any idea the amount of confidence these women drivers must have driving this mode of transport traditionally set for men only? This is already breaking boundaries-already disturbing the status quo and that too from bottom up. Our middle tiered and lower income women are more courageous than our foreign educated and upper class women. These women are always the first whether it’s traffic police fighter pilots or rickshaw drivers. I can only imagine women and their families feeling secure and confident and not be harassed by their husbands and brothers to be chaperoned if they know they can travel safely. So I don’t understand what the problem is. Problem is not segregating but in us not supporting such initiatives. You writing this article, will you be seen in a pink rickshaw? No. But for a lot of women this is a welcome sign and a relief.

    • I already feel that the Pakistani youth tries to live up to negative stereotypes (such as when young boys think getting into fights and harassing women is a sign of masculinity), I think this will further encourage it. Segregation is what has lead to this. Personally, we should stop addressing and recognizing males and females as different groups. We are one group. When such differences will be abolished equality can and will be achieved.
      I think this will only show young men how such behavior is expected from them, and I strongly believe that they will strive to live up to these expectations, due to severe peer pressure.
      I am very willing to also debate this with anyone who chooses to.

  • plz any body help me i want 2 buy this rikshaw

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