‘Women on Wheels’ project empowered 4000 women – until the recent government discontinued it

WoW (Women on Wheels) project was pioneered by the past Punjab government and addressed a very pressing yet least addressed issue – women’s mobility in public places.

WoW provided women with training and subsidized motorcycles, empowering them in a way that is both sustainable and self-sufficient. The project was basically planned by the former Punjab CM’s Strategic Reforms Unit (SRU) and promised women the freedom to move independently.

The project, however, has now been phased out by the incumbent government.

After the distribution of the first 700 motorbikes, they no longer reached the women who were in need. According to the former director-general of SRU, Salman Sufi, the money that was set aside for the project is now sitting idly in the Bank of Punjab (BoP).

Sufi and his team were working on the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act (officially passed in 2016) when they noticed the unconventional challenges women face for mobility particularly.

They noticed that for working women particularly, there are two options: 1) they either can use public transport OR take their brothers, fathers with them. Nonetheless, it also deprives them of the privilege of easy mobility, particularly at lower costs.

“This lack of mobility is an impediment to anything they want to do in their lives,” Sufi says.

Source: DAWN

SRU then decided to experiment with the project. They put up a small advertisement on Facebook to test and see how many women – or any women at all – will be interested in learning about it since women driving motorbikes are a rare sight in Pakistan. To their surprise, more than 60 women belonging to all age groups signed up.

Till July 2018, within the course of 2 years, the project had already trained over 4000 women.

The Incumbent Government Believes It Is Not Viable:

The project, which appeared quite successful initially, was caught up in a number of problems in the second phase. Fatima Khalid, a former associate at SRU, while speaking to DAWN, said that one of the key issues was eligibility criteria – as every stakeholder had a different set of requirements.

“We had the bank [of Punjab], the transport department, as well as Honda. The bank wanted the down payment to be a certain amount and the government wanted the subsidy to only be for low-income groups. Those women who qualified for the subsidy would often be unable to make the down payment for the motorcycle,” she claimed.

Shahzeb Naeem, who was also an associate at SRU, commented that the new signing up process was very complicated and inconvenient.

A lot of documentation was required, ranging from domiciles, CNIC verifications, affidavits, and a guardian’s signature. The process was not user-friendly at all,” he said.

PTI-led Government Introduced ‘Women Only’ Buses:

Punjab Transport Department announced in September that they will be introducing women-only buses. The buses will be facilitated by waiting areas, toilets and safe drinking water for female passengers but Fatima believes that such initiatives have been in the past as well and are not much futile.

According to a 2018 international policy brief, Overcoming Barriers to Women’s Mobility: Improving Women’s Access to Public Transport in Pakistan, women-only buses ran half-empty and were not enough to overcome the key challenge: the hesitance and reluctance they face while using public transportation.

 “The impact of the project is not in the numbers but in the stories these numbers represent”

Fatima believes that projects like WoW cannot be merely gauged using parameters like cost solely. In fact, the change in the environment of public spaces and women presence speaks more about its success.

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