Toot toot! The launch of a female-only rickshaw taxi service in the city of Punjab Chakwal has begun breaking barriers and challenging gender stereotypes for women and girls in Pakistan.
Pick Rickshaw- breaking the stereotype
Kiran, an intelligent and ambitious girl from District Chakwal, had to leave school after 8th grade. Her father, a mason, didn’t have enough to support the family. She lived in a Joint family structure consisting of five members
Poverty made me quit my education and work for a living
To make ends meet, Kiran was forced into agricultural labor, like every other girl from rural areas. She worked on weekends to supplement her meager income.
"I felt happy earning for my family and helping them come out of the adversities, but I didn’t want to submit to the stereotypes. We should all get to choose the way we want to live," Kiran says.
Under such trying times, Kiran made a decision of changing the perspective of the society. She met with some like-minded women professionals who encouraged her to get registered for the pink rickshaw initiative, which is designed to encourage young girls to take up training and employment opportunities.
The vibrant pink rickshaws are enabling those who use them to feel safer as they travel through their city, as well as less restricted in where they go and who they go with.
They are gaining more confidence, more independence and claiming a new position on the road – a position in Pakistan that is dominated by men.
The new all-female initiative, launched by Plan International Pakistan, is providing the drivers and passengers that use it with a level of safety and security that, until now, had been hard to find.
“I had full support from my family once I started driving the pink rickshaw, but my extended family stopped meeting us”, she says
I had full support from my family once I started driving the pink rickshaw
I felt happy earning for my family and helping them come out of the adversities, but I didn’t want to submit to the stereotypes. We should all get to choose the way we want to live
Kiran had to show a lot of tolerance to the nasty comments from people who saw her drive. It wasn’t easy for the society to accept a woman driving around on streets.
“Someone has to take the first bold step. It was a challenge for the first few months but I’ve now made my place, people respect me and appreciate the change I’ve brought”.
ABOUT THE RICKSHAW DRIVERS
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.
Someone has to take the first bold step. It was a challenge for the first few months but I’ve now made my place, people respect me and appreciate the change I’ve brought
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 to women could soon begin to change and the discrimination they face could finally, one day, be a thing of the past.
Rickshaw driver with female passengers
PROMOTING SAFETY AND ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT FOR WOMEN
The idea for the rickshaw taxi service first emerged in Lahore. It was later replicated by Plan International, and 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.
Female Drivers, Women Empowerment