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mobility women

Written by Maryam Jilani 7:31 pm Articles, Pakistan, Published Content

Women’s Mobility in Karachi: The Pink Bus Initiative

Mobility is a challenge for many women around the world, but especially in Pakistan. Maryam Jilani explores infrastructure and how it causes gendered inequalities. She applauds the pink bus service in Karachi and encourages initiatives and infrastructure for gender-inclusive access.
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About the Author(s)
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Ms Maryam Jilani is a student of Sociology who passionately believes in the advocacy of human rights and women empowerment.

Karachi: A City By the Sea

Karachi, with a total size of 3,527 km2 is Pakistan’s largest metropolis and the provincial capital of Sindh. It distinctively has two portions, the mountainous regions in the north and west and the undulating plain and coastal region in the southeast.

Its origin started when in the seventeenth century a tiny harbor on the Arabian Sea located 40 kilometers to the west of modern-day Karachi at the Hub River’s estuary known as Karak Bunder, which served as a stopover for the trade between South India and Central Asia became useless. That happened so due to the heavy rains in 1728  which caused the estuary to silt up.

The merchants of Karak Bunder, therefore, made the decision to move their operations to what is now known as Karachi. Due to the silting up of Shah Bunder and Kiti Bunder (major Indus River ports) and the movement of their operations to Karachi, trade expanded between 1729 and 1839.

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Furthermore, the British annexation of Karachi in 1839 and the creation of ongoing irrigation systems to increase agricultural productivity, which was then exported through it along with the development of the railways connecting it to its countryside and making it easier to transport agricultural goods resulted in Karachi’s emerging as India’s top exporter of wheat and cotton by 1869.

When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, Karachi became the first port of call for ships sailing from Europe to India. Following the separation from the Bombay Presidency in 1935, Sindh became a province, with Karachi serving as its capital. As a consequence, government agencies and commercial associations relocated from Bombay to Karachi, and the first industrial estate was built. Finally, Pakistan was established in 1947, with Karachi serving as its first capital.

Karachi For Women: Heaven or Havoc?

Karachi, a hub for economic activities with its accelerating population and urbanization, has been home to about 7,074,913 women according to the census 2017. However, to what degree has it been and still is hostile to them? There’s nothing shocking in finding out some new information then and now about gender-based violence and discrimination; in fact, it’s quite now one of the city’s traits.

Based on a report released by the Sustainable Social Development Organisation (SSDO) and the Center for Research, Development, and Communication (CRDC) completed in Sindh between January and October 2022, 58.4% of the 1,865 documented incidents of women being kidnapped and  50.5% of the women trafficking took place in Karachi. In a similar vein, it was also the source for all 29 reported cases of bonded labor and accounted for  71.9% of incidents of kidnappings recorded across the province.

Infrastructure Violence

Infrastructures are interconnected and gendered. Gendered influence is employed to generate, acquire, use, and modify human and technological urban infrastructures. For women to exercise their autonomy and carry out their financial and social tasks from the house to the city, all three must be connected.

Disconnected economic, technological, and social infrastructures can prevent women from being full citizens and significantly affect gender in daily life. These effects are perceptible in form. Daily life is full of systems of marginalization, prejudice, and exclusion that work via and are supported by the infrastructure which is referred to as “infrastructural violence.”

The production of infrastructure violence occurs at several spatial and temporal dimensions, and it is linked to social, institutional, operational, and gendered inequalities in infrastructure from the house to the city. Over 40% of Pakistani women avoid traveling after dark, according to the Asian Development Bank, drastically reducing their possibilities for higher education or social interaction.

Public spaces are not constant; they are animated by factors such as time, location, environment, and people. Therefore, when bus stops are designed as brightly lit, accessible, and secure spaces, women can use them with a sense of safety. These are well-known factors that play a role in improving security and reducing crime rates. Moreover, only a small number of seats on public transportation are designated for women, similar to the seating capacity which was set decades ago when hardly any women left the home.

Furthermore, several females were unable to attend college because there was no public transit line running from their houses to the institution. According to studies, 85% of women and girls who travel for employment or educational purposes utilize public transportation, and each year, 15% of them are compelled to remain at home because of harassment.

The socioeconomic position of women in Pakistan as a whole is quite poor. They lack the skills necessary to advocate for their rights. Sexual harassment offenses including whistling, singing filthy tunes, and both written and verbal misbehavior are all punishable under Section 509 of the PPC. Between three and five years in prison and a fine equivalent to PKR 500,000 are the sanctions for such offenses (USD 2,500).

Many female domestic employees residing in Karachi’s crowded, low-income areas with little access to appropriate physical infrastructure commute every day to their jobs and invest 10% to 50% of their monthly earnings on just transportation.

Pink Bus: Mobility for Women

Karachi as a city lacking gender equality, security, women’s mobility, and access to public space had handicapped women in the past and continues to do so in the present too, where they are forced to survive under detrimental conditions and make the ends meet. However, it should be noted that restricting mobility for women also means limiting the socio-economic progress of a country. 

The country’s GDP may rise by 26% if women fully participate in the economic system, according to Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CEO of the non-profit LEAD. “Without fully integrating women into the professional, independent, and mainstream economy, we cannot accomplish our Sustainable Development Goals. Better mobility options for women might help achieve at least 11 of the SDGs,” he said.

Nonetheless, in circumstances like these, the pink bus service does emerge as a beam of hope in Karachi, as the beginning of a new dawn. This initiative, which would cost Rs 12 billion, has been begun by the Sindh Mass Transport Authority, exclusively for women with a capacity of  24 passengers to sit down, while an additional 24 can stand in the wide corridors.

There are two special needs seats available and women make up the majority of the personnel, with the business intending to hire female drivers for the vehicle. The bus has a number of stops along the way, and the driver announces each one as it travels from Model Colony in Malir to Sharae Faisal to Tower.

Girls under the age of five can go for free, and the ticket is Rs 50. These tickets can be bought on the vehicle or via a smartphone app and the passengers may access real-time information about the bus arrival and follow its status using the app. Moreover, the buses have been equipped with security cameras to enhance passenger security hence proving to be successful in achieving the confidence of passengers.

Fortunately, with the passage of time, new routes are being planned too, in order to facilitate the public more, recently the Sindh Government announced that the pink bus service would operate on two new routes starting from 1st March 2023. The new Route No. 10 of the pink bus would go from Numaish Chowrangi to Clock Tower Sea View through MA Jinnah Road, Metropole, Teen Talwar, Do Talwar, Abdullah Shah Ghazi, Dolmen Mall, and McDonald’s.

The other new Route 2, which begins at Powerhouse Chowrangi in North Karachi and travels via Nagan Chowrangi, Shafiq Mor, Gulshan Chowrangi, Johar Mor, COD, Drigh Road, Shara-e-Faisal, Shah Faisal Colony, and Singer Chowrangi Korangi No. 5, will end at Indus Hospital Korangi.

Conclusion

Women’s mobility is not an isolated phenomenon, but in fact, acts as a means to a firmer grasp on accessibility to resources and public spaces with an increased sense of empowerment, independence, and equality. When a woman is facilitated with mobility, she does not only act as a contributing member of society by getting involved in educational, economical, and recreational activities but also builds a narrative of gender equality and security.

Undoubtedly, the initiative of the pink bus, a women-only bus, works miraculously given the city’s current scenario of violence and disrupted infrastructure of mobility, as it offers safety, minimum fare, generates employment, and is inclusive of specially-abled women.

Restricting women’s mobility and expecting them to be positively effective in society is a  facade of bad faith. For empowering women, the government must work towards establishing and maintaining more projects like the pink bus to ensure the attainment of better outcomes i.e a smooth mobility infrastructure, inclusive streets, and public spaces leading to women realizing themselves as full citizens.


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The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.

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