The ride-hailing services like Uber and Careem though have drawn much attention across the world due to tax and wage-related issues, but the government has always given up to the utility of services they offer for daily commute. It was fine until the debate was restricted to these issues, but the situation is now getting out of hands as an increasing number of people, specially women, have started reporting the incidents of sexual harassment by drivers during the commute. 

The question then arises is that are these companies taking proportionate measures to address or at least open a dialogue over this extremely sensitive issue, which can potentially have serious adverse social implications for a particular segment of our society? Does not seem so. But before going into the details, let us know the importance of it first. 

The service is used by a large amount of girls and women who are either students or engaged in some sort of employment. The door-to-door pick and drop service gave sufficient reason to the average conservative middle class (often patriarchal) families to allow the women to avail opportunities even if they were offered at a significant distance from the place of their residence. 

In a conservative society like ours, the service was considered to be a blessing for women. The reasons were pretty obvious: public transport was much more exposing, hectic and not feasible for those living in far-away areas of the expanding metropolitan areas, creating significant hindrances in way of getting educational and economic opportunities. Although it was more economical and perhaps safer due to it being public, the limited outreach of was a huge factor to be accounted for, specially women, while choosing their opportunities.

However, these means of transportation are no longer safe for women now, and are likely to create a social crisis in Pakistan in coming days. The reasons are simple. It is likely that in an environment where such incidents of harassment are not controlled, this would result into a distrust of these conservative and already skeptical parents or guardians against women moving out to pursue their education and careers. That in turn may, albeit latently, start the reversal process of women empowerment here at home. 

So even if the incidents are rare, when compared to the ratio of occasions when it is safe, it would still have a strong tendency of creating unreasonable fear due to amplification effect. 

Why is it happening, who is responsible and what do we need to do in this regard? 

These companies almost have no criteria of screening or background checks (such as checking criminal record, if any), nor is there any other qualification criteria for allowing people to become captains, except that of necessary documents. No qualification or interview procedures are present, leaving it almost open for all out there.

In the name of training, all what they do for the aspiring drivers is give an hour long session which is related to operating mechanisms of the applications they run. Room full of men during the training period not only lacks the representation of women, it includes no detailed equity policy in terms of ethics appropriate behavior these captains need to adopt towards the customers, particularly women. 

Moreover, these companies do not consider these drivers as their employees, hence they are not vicariously liable for the actions of the captains; there is no civil liability over these companies for the survivors of sexual harassment in form of damages. This is not to say that they do not take all necessary actions to criminally incriminate the culprits, but is that enough and all what they are ought to do?

Since vendors of these vehicles are considered as business partners, they too do not qualify the test of being the employers of these captains. Hence, there are little to no opportunities of filing a civil suit against these companies for claiming damages for the psychological trauma that the survivors have to go through, which obviously is a serious legal loophole. Also, this deprives us of the deterrence against these companies to be more responsible in terms of shaping their business model in a way which does not thrive on weaknesses of the vulnerable groups of our societies. 

We all know how difficult it is for an ordinary woman in our society to report such a crime, let alone win the legal battle in courts.

It is the responsibility of the these companies to take preventive measures for curbing such incidents, which may have devastating effects on the survivor, with little to no options other than to approach the law enforcement agencies, which is always a difficult choice in our criminal justice system. 

The government is also supposed to regulate this business through special laws in case needed, without compromising the benefits in form of comfortable commute that these companies are providing this commuting service. Both these companies and the government should strike a fair balance between the ease of doing business through minimum regulations and the protection and safety of weaker segments of our society.