LAHORE - They call it Tuk Tuk in Thailand. In India and Bangladesh it is called auto. In Pakistan they are called rickshaw and are major source of transportation. The profession of rickshaw driving is 100 percent male job. Now all that is going to change as Pink Rickshaw Scheme has officially been launched by NGO Environment Protection Foundation, a charity registered in USA.

Yesterday the first rally of five pink rickshaws took to the streets of Lahore with Zar Aslam the President and CEO of TEPF in one of the rickshaws. The rally started from Lahore Cantonment and after media interaction at Bagh-e-Jinnah ended at Alhamra. EPF has in the last four years worked on more than 100 projects and activities in Pakistan. This is their initiative to provide safe rides for women who often have to face harassment from male rickshaw drivers.

The seating capacity of the vehicle is for three people including the driver. These made in Pakistan vehicles have four stroke petrol engine type with CDI type ignition. The rickshaw can also be run on electric power through a battery. It has transmission line that is manual shift (4 Fwd and one Reverse) with hydraulic disc brake system. “We believe the rickshaws would be more socially acceptable in Lahore. They are safer, they are enclosed, better means of transportation during summer and winter, do not require helmets and are easier to drive. It is huge potential source of revenue while providing safe rides for other women,” Zar said talking to The Nation about the benefits of pink rickshaw.

On a query about how the idea first came to her mind, she said it all rose when she came to know about the transportation problem of female members of her staff. “They use public transport. These young ladies told me that when they were standing at the bus stop waiting for the public transport, they were harassed by eve-teasers. The guys feel free to harass or tease the girls standing on the bus stops,” she was of the view.

“The second reason is that since I work in the development sector, I realized that when we are talking about the empowerment of the women, we talk a lot and act very little. Lot of working women don’t have their own car. They have to take cab which they can’t afford. The rickshaw is cheap but it is not necessarily safe. So my motivation was to do something for the women who are working class and introduce a rickshaw on which they can’t only travel but could also generate some extra income. For example, the female staff before going to their work place can easily arrange picks and drop of school children. She can easily arrange pick drops for some girls. In this way they are not only travelling safe but also generating some extra income. Even those women who don’t have jobs can easily go around their community and arrange same thing for them,” Zar explained.

PEF has trained the female drivers and set in motion a mobile unit that could reach them in case of emergency. In the first phase the service will be on routes that are deemed safe.

“The approximate cost of the present rickshaw is Rs. 275,000. As for as its design and body we have finalised this pink rickshaw and asked the manufacturers to make minor modifications. For example, its side mirrors were small and we asked the manufacturers to replace those with bigger one, asked for a small fan and sunroof for better air system. The wiper would be automatic as other rickshaws do not have such wipers,” she said.

The rickshaws will be given to women on easy instalments. “Women will have to come once in the month and pay the instalment and also share their experience and the difficulties they faced during that month. This will further help us out to solve their problems and difficulties,” Zar was of the view.

Putting women in the driving seat of rickshaws is a daunting task considering it has never happened before. The project would be a milestone in removing some cultural barriers for women and help them to become independent, mobile and productive members of the society.