Gender-based violence deters women from public transport

Fear of kidnapping, sexual assault drives away female commuters.

LAHORE: As the government takes pride in its efforts aimed at uplifting and integrating women and girls into the public sphere, the unexpected rise in cases of targeted violence against women pushes the nation back to square one.

Despite the introduction of legislative bills like the Domestic Violence Act of 2020 and defense applications like the Women Safety App of 2022, which allowed women in danger to instantaneously report their plight and call the police, an unanticipated rise in cases of gender-based violence (GBV) including rape, abduction and catcalling has significantly reduced the number of women who opt for public transportation, like the Orange Line and Metro Bus Service since they feel unsafe travelling among men, who could be a potential threat to their safety.

“Even before, when I used to travel in the Metro Bus, I would feel very uncomfortable since all the men would start leering at me. Now, with the rising number of cases of violence against women, my colleagues and I have pooled in for a private taxi, “shared a nurse from Shahdara, on the condition of anonymity.

According to a record kept by the Transport Department, the past one year has witnessed a significant decrease in the number of women traveling through public transport, with 4 per cent less women travelling through the Orange Line and 5 per cent less commuting through the Metro Bus.

“Women are no longer comfortable travelling in public transportation since very few seats are reserved for women and most women are not willing to sit in public spaces occupied by unknown men given the high prevalence of gender-based violence,” said a spokesperson from the Transport Department.

According to statistical sources crimes against women have nearly doubled in the preceding two years, with up to 1662 physical abuse cases, 3608 rape cases and up to 7357 abduction occurrences coming up in 2022 alone in the core province.

Furthermore, according to Tauseef Gondal, a spokesperson for the Punjab Safe City Authority Project, more than 70,000 complaints concerning crimes against women were registered last year through the Women’s Safety App and were received by the police helpline, 15.

According to the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Investigation, Sohail Akhtar Sukhera, the large number of complaints received still understate the true figures of gender-based violence which go unreported in the country.

In its band aid approach to the growing rate of gender-based violence, the government recently launched a special pink bus service for female commuters, which would supposedly reduce the degree of risk that they face.

Speaking to The Express Tribune on the matter, a source from the Punjab Civil Secretariat acknowledged the plight of women whose mobility had been deeply affected by the rising crime rate. “We have initiated a pick and drop service for our government employees and the pink bus service for private workers, in order to alleviate some of the troubles facing our working women,” said the source.

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