Poor urban planning is blocking the dreams of women and girls in Karachi | News | Eco-Enterprise

Both stories show the problems faced by women in the cities of Pakistan. Rising air pollution destroys the dreams of girls like Gul, while congested transport makes harassment frequent and easy, depriving women like Iqbal of jobs. It is a sad truth accepted and endured by most women in big cities like Karachi.

Karachi’s glorious past

Today’s smoky, noisy Karachi is a picture of shiny skyscrapers, concrete buildings and huge traffic jams. But it was very different only 50 years ago, according to the ancient Karachiites. Aleemuddin, 70, a resident of the densely populated Garden East district of Karachi, said the streets of the city were washed down daily and tall trees swayed on both sides of the roads.

Buses, trams, bicycles, rickshaws and Tim-tim (horse-drawn carriages) drove through the tree-lined streets. There were few cars, no crowds, no smoke or pollution, no loud horns and a refreshing sea breeze in the evening.

Fareed Ahmed Lucknowi, managing director of Lucknow Transport Company, said bicycle-pulled rickshaws probably stopped working in the 1960s when motorized rickshaws hit the roads. With the introduction of the circular railway in the late 1960s, much of the rapidly growing population gained access to cheap transport. But the circular railway was closed in 1999 due to lack of maintenance and funding.

Dilapidated public transport

For two years, Iqbal commuted to work in ramshackle public buses. She said the buses were always very late and overcrowded, with male passengers forced to sit on the roof. Men also occupied the seats reserved for women. “Traveling on public transport is nothing short of a nightmare,” she added.

According to the Asian Development Bank, nearly 40 percent of women avoid traveling after dark in Pakistan, which considerably limits their possibilities of pursuing studies or social life.

Noman Ahmed, a renowned civil engineer and head of the architecture and planning department at NED University of Engineering and Technology in Karachi, said the metropolis was suffering from a severe shortage of public buses.

According to a government census, vehicles on the city’s roads can only accommodate 42% of passengers. Rickshaws and taxis provide transport for 8%, while 21% use private vehicles. Most people prefer two-wheelers for their low cost, fuel efficiency and maneuverability in heavy traffic.

Ahmed said the government was working on a bus rapid transit system. This has seven corridors, one of which, the Green Line, is partially operational with 80 buses. The government claims that 200,000 people benefit from the Green Line, which is financed by the AfDB.

Vehicles are the main source of air pollution

Mirza Mujtaba Baig, who is affiliated with Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), said a 2020 survey found that the amount of PM 2.5 (particles small enough to enter the system respiratory) was 68 micrograms per cubic meter in Lyari. This level is almost three times higher than the maximum exposure recommended by the World Health Organization (25 µg/m3) increasing the risk of respiratory disease in people like Gul.

“Although Karachi’s transport system is considered the second leading cause of air pollution after industrial pollution, some experts consider it to be the leading cause even though there is no data in support in this regard,” Mujtaba said.

SEPA has recently started monitoring vehicle emissions in Karachi. It says 25-35% of vehicles in Karachi are environmentally hazardous due to the staggering amount of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and other emissions they emit.

Sami Khan, an ear, nose and throat specialist in Karachi, said the fine particles can enter the bloodstream and affect all major organs. Exposure to PM2.5 can cause cardiovascular and respiratory disease, such as stroke, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

With about 135,000 people die every year in Pakistan due to air pollution, Khan said the government should take air pollution seriously and carry out an aggressive public awareness campaign similar to dengue fever and other diseases.

gender imbalance

“Inadequate, unsafe and inefficient transport systems directly affect women’s health, education and economic activity,” said Farhan Anwar, a social activist affiliated with Shehri, an NGO.

Anwar said only a few seats are reserved for women on public transport because the number of seats was set decades ago when very few women left their homes. He said that during his research he interviewed many girls who couldn’t go to college because there was no direct route from their home to college.

Talat Iqbal, the former factory supervisor, said she wanted to continue working, but her widowed mother was afraid that if a boy was seen harassing her at the bus stop, people would blame her . This would make it difficult to find a decent husband for her. She added that “blaming and degrading” women and girls has become a norm, especially if they venture out alone.

Mumtaz Mughal, director of the Aurat Foundation, an NGO working for the empowerment of women, said the foundation’s research found that 85% of women and girls who go to school or work use transport together, 15% of whom are forced to stay home each year because of harassment.

How to Improve Karachi’s Transport System

A 2018 World Bank study said suggested that there should be green-powered buses in Karachi, with a seating capacity of 100 for 1,500 people.

According to government sources, a year ago the Karachi Ring Railway project was included in the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project (CPEC). Although the terms and timing of the project are still unclear, the project is hailed as the backbone of Karachi’s future transport system. Each train will accommodate 1,391 passengers and will run every six minutes. It should transport more than 600,000 people per day.

Noman Ahmed, however, disagrees with the idea, calling it “limited relief” for citizens. A contract worth 300 million Pakistani rupees (approximately $1.5 million) has been awarded to a foreign company for the rehabilitation of the circular railway, which he says can be done at much cost. weaker. The government, he said, should formulate an overall strategy for the city instead of various projects.

Social activist Anwar said that better transport systems exist in countries where the government provides women-only transport, among other measures, and a subsidized transport service for women is expected to be launched in Karachi. Mobile apps to alert police to harassment and additional police patrols should be used, especially in the evening and at night, he added.

Mumtaz Mughal of the Aurat Foundation pointed out that a mobile application has been tested in Punjab province and has not been “very successful”.

“The general economic situation of women in Pakistan is very bad. They don’t know how to defend their rights. They don’t even know what laws are in place to help them. An overwhelming majority of 94.8% of women and girls are unaware of Section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC),” she said.

Singing vulgar songs, whistling, and written and verbal misconduct are all crimes related to sexual harassment and can be prosecuted under Section 509 of the CPC. The penalty for such crimes is three to five years in prison and a fine of up to PKR 500,000 (USD 2,500).

Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, Managing Director of LEAD, an NGO, said: “If women are fully involved in the economic process, the country’s GDP could increase by 26%. We cannot achieve our Sustainable Development Goals if we do not fully integrate women into the mainstream of work, autonomy and the economy. At least 11 of the SDGs could be achieved by providing better transport for women, he added.