Online cabs: A boon for female drivers?



ISLAMABAD: Mother of three, 40-year old Rehana, had to continue her husband’s job of a cab driver as he got seriously ill and there was no one in their family to run the house. Rehana said that she joined this driving job a month ago and initially faced many problems with being a female cab driver.

“My family lives in Punjab, so they don’t know what kind of a job I am doing. I have strictly asked my children not to tell any relative during our visit to our hometown,” she said.

Rehana fears that her relatives would not allow her to continue her job as she believes opting for this job is a taboo in her family. Earlier, her husband was also hesitant to let her do this job, however, due to financial crises, he had no other option as Rehana didn’t have any degree to do some other ‘honorable’ job.

Rehana told that male commuters are more interested to know why she was doing this job in a society where harassment, rape, abduction and other gender-based violations are on the rise.

With a sarcastic smile on her face, she said, “Mostly those men, who are asking about my problems, call me later to offer help in return for having a friendship with them. I had to block many numbers and these calls also disturbed my family life because my husband, who is very disturbed due to his prolonged illness, doubts on me for late night calls.”

Rehana avoids taking a ride to remote areas of Islamabad in late evening due to her fears, which also affects her performance and income.  She was hesitant to complain to her office as she feared she can lose this job, which is giving her a handsome amount of around Rs50,000 per month.

This cab service has provided a golden opportunity to these poor or middle-class women to earn a handsome amount to run their homes. Mostly women and girls interviewed had not much educational qualification to get a job, mostly had matriculation or an FA degree, which is not enough to get a good salary.

However, some factors like the privacy of their numbers or provision of official smartphones and any mechanism to make their rides safe were ignored while sending these captains on roads, which opened a window of harassment for them.

Another young female captain, Kauser Manzoor also faces much or less the same challenges during her working hours. She is living with her brother after getting separation from her husband, therefore, desperately needed a job to earn her livelihood.

Recalling an incident, Kauser said, “A few weeks back, I took a ride for F-7 Markaz and the young man during the ride asked me that I am very pretty and innocent, so he fell in love with me. I got very scared and asked him to get out of the car in Blue Area without completing my ride.”

She said that she got surprised when she received a call from her office to convey that she was fined 1,000 rupees for not completing the ride on the complaint made by that man. She continued adding, “I tried to make my position clear but unfortunately I was not heard and was warned to be polite to the costumes.”

Kauser also complained about the privacy of her cell number as she also received plenty of wrong calls and cheap text messages. According to her, many of her colleagues faced this issue as they couldn’t afford to keep two smartphones for personal and professional use.

She also made a complaint to the office for the privacy of their number but all in vain so far.

Along with facing harassment, these women drivers need social acceptance which seems a year-long dream. A male cab driver, who was hesitant to tell his name, said, “Why these women join such fields where such incidences are definite to take place. They should do some other jobs in a safe environment and their family members should not allow them to do this job.”

When contacted, head of public relations section of Careem (a private online cab service) Sabtain Naqvi agreed that such problems exist due to disclosure of cell numbers to commuters, and their office was working on different solutions to counter it.

He said, “If any female captain complains to us about harassment, we immediately block that number and in our policy, there is zero tolerance for harassment.  In such patriarchal society, we are trying to bring a social revolution and we should understand that it will take a long time.”

However, he agreed that company had not issued official Sims or smartphones to their captains, therefore, they were using their personal numbers.

Maliha Hussain, programme director of Mehrgarh, said that such harassment cases did not fall under Harassment at Work Place Act because, under this law, the harasser should be an employee of the organisation. However, she added that Section 509 of Pakistan Penal Code provides a protective umbrella to women who get harassed at public or private places.

She appreciated these women for being courageous enough to opt for such jobs that were considered taboo in the society. She also urged the employer company to provide legal counselling and other facilities to counter this problem.

“Such offences are on the rise as many culprits go untouched because most women are still unaware of their rights to protect them against such crimes, and many others keep their mouths shut to protect family honour,” she added.