The uncertain future of Mardan’s women-only bus service

Despite affordability, women reluctant to use public buses due to widely reported harassment incidents

Hidayatur Rehman Hoti September 22, 2019
A Reuters file photo showing silhouette of a woman.

MARDAN: In a bid to facilitate the female population of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and make public transportation more accessible and comfortable for them, Japan, with the cooperation of the K-P government and technical support from the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), launched a separate bus service for the women in Mardan earlier this year.

Initially, seven buses were provided to Mardan to offer a better transportation facility to women in the district. At present, however, the number of buses has been reduced to only two.

Commenting on the reduction of buses, Farzana Javed advocate, a social worker, said that the introduction of pink buses was “a gift for professional women,” and lamented the move to reduce the number of buses to two.

Citing Mardan’s population figures, she said that out of a total population of 2.4 million, women make up about one million, considering which there should be an increase in the number of buses instead of a reduction.

“The service has not been halted, but considering that many women relied on pink buses, the reduction in the number of buses is an inappropriate step, she said.

“Pink buses, that were concurrently launched in Mardan and Abbottabad, have failed within five months of beginning operation. The provincial government should promptly take notice to resume the service in full-swing.”

On the other hand, Gohar Khan, the in-charge of pink buses in Mardan, told The Express Tribune that owing to an acute dearth of funds, the contractor of the service found it impossible to generate salaries for operating staff or buy petrol for the buses. Therefore, the number had to be reduced.

“For women, travelling alone outside of Mardan is considered a violation of the Pakhtun culture, therefore, a very few women use these buses,” Gohar Khan added.

When the Japanese Embassy was approached for a comment, a spokesperson said that the embassy receives information from the UNOPS, according to which the buses are operating on a daily basis.

“According to the information available with the embassy, there is no news related to the decommissioning of the buses,” the spokesperson said, adding that further details can be sought from the UNOPS Pakistan Office.

The pink bus service began its services on Feb 4, 2019. To launch the pink bus service, a special ceremony was held in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa House in Mardan, which was formally inaugurated by PTI parliamentarians Shaheen Saifullah, Sajida Haneef, Muhammad Zahir Shah and Iftekhar Mashwani.

In addition to providing these buses for women, UNOPS also constructed 16 bus stops in Mardan through which the buses were operated.

The introduction of a women-only transportation service was seen as a ray of hope across the province, particularly to working women who would otherwise find it inconvenient to commute from home to work because of the over-crowded buses, predominantly occupied by men.

Despite being the cheapest and the most accessible form of transportation, women are reluctant to use public buses due to the widely-reported incidents of harassment occurring within buses and at the bus stops.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2019.


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