By Sharanya Gopinathan
Cab services are emerging as a sort of go-to answer for women to have access to increased mobility. Saudi Arabia’s plan to introduce and subsidise Uber in a kingdom where women are legally banned from driving was met with protest from Saudi women who thought it was a move that basically allowed a big business to capitalise off of their lack of freedom, while basically providing the wrong solution to the problem.
Pakistan has taken a slightly nicer approach, although it still misses the larger point. Ambreen Sheikh and her husband have started a company, albeit with the mildly irritating name Pink Taxi or Paxi (the taxis and their driver’s headscarves are pink), which is a “women-only taxi service”. Sheikh told Reuters that the service employs housewives, young women and students. The service is also meant to provide an alternative to women who routinely face sexual harassment on public transport.
Syed Nasir Hussain Shah, minister for transport in Sindh, acknowledged that women are sexually harassed on public transport, and said, on Pakistani television, that having a mode of transport for them alone would help them in their travel issues.
Well look, it’s great for private citizens to take initiatives like this upon themselves to increase women’s options for safe mobility, but it’s a bit rich for ministers to merely acknowledge that sexual harassment happens on state-run public transport and then say just take a taxi instead. Sexual harassment shouldn’t be happening on public transport, and part of the reason that it does is a failure of state mechanisms to provide adequate security to women. The minister for transport should ideally take cognisance of this and work to eradicate it, not tout privately-run all-women taxis as the solution. Plus, how many women can even afford a taxi anyway?
By the way, India has lots of pink public transport too. Kerala, especially, seems to be a fan of the pink vahanam: they have state-run pink taxis and pink buses plying the streets regularly. Female auto drivers in Bhubhaneshwar also wear what we called sarkari pink in 2016.