Ease of mobility for women is a pathway to all other economic opportunities. This holds especially true for developing countries where movement of women is highly restricted because of lack of convenient transport options. A news report that caught attention earlier this month was an announcement made by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to provide female residents of the city free commute on the city’s buses and metro.

The idea was to incentivise use of public transport for those who cannot afford it while also making the city safer for women by increasing their presence in public spaces. The travel scheme that will cost INR 700cr in one year naturally invited criticism from the BJP-led federal government towards the CM, who belongs to the opponent party, Aam Aadmi Party.

However, a thorough Google search reveals that not only does Delhi have a surplus budget but also that the city’s extensive metro system is underutilised. Therefore, taking such a step would not only enable full utility of the transport network but also encourage women who walk alone in dark hours or not commute at all, to start using public transport.

On the contrary, the Pakistani Tehreek-e-Insaf government after assuming power decided to end the subsidised fares on the metro bus between Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Although the proposal was later rejected,

it’s evident that the ruling government was not thinking on the lines of reducing barriers to people’s, and consequently women’s, mobility. A large number of women in Pakistan have limited movement because of deep-seated cultural norms, but the economics of travelling is a determinant too. For women who are the breadwinners of the family, low-cost transport enhances access to services such as employment, education and health care etc.

When PML-N launched subsidised metro bus service between Rawalpindi and Islamabad in 2015, working class women, who I personally know, benefitted from the service. My female domestic helper who previously had to take a public van where drivers would often overcharge passengers was much happier to travel in an air-conditioned bus on a daily fixed rate. In May this year, a UN programme funded by the Japanese government launched women-only buses in Mardan and Abbottabad. Provision of diverse mobility patterns can encourage more women to travel to meet their practical needs.

Meanwhile, the popularity of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Careem has certainly made accessibility convenient for middle and upper class women but in the larger picture, those are a lucky few. Steps need to be taken on part of ride-hailing companies to also empower the women that can’t afford private transportation or lack digital knowledge. This segment becomes excluded from the society and needs to be uplifted. Last year, Uber partnered with Benazir Bhutto Income Support Programme to provide 100 BISP beneficiaries rickshaws at a minimal monthly installment while also teaching them driving skills and giving them digital literacy. However, initiatives like these should not be a one-time thing and there should instead be a sustained and coordinated effort to improve the ability for women and girls to move across places.

–The writer is a freelance

contributor.