Providing Women with Safer Public Transport in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan

Date: Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Author: Faria Salman

Islamabad, Pakistan – UN Women and UNOPS (the United Nations Office for Project Services) signed a ‘UN2UN Agreement’ today to develop and pilot a transport service for women in the Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) with the generous support of the Government of Japan.

Agreement signed between UNOPS and UN Women Pakistan to provide women of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with safer public transport. Photo: UN Women/Faria Salman

A joint study on sexual harassment in public transport in the city of Peshawar, KP, conducted by UN Women and UNOPS in 2014, with female commuters and representatives from KP’s provincial departments (Urban Planning Unit, Transport Department, Traffic Police, Social Welfare and Women Development), confirmed the reality that sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces are an everyday occurrence for women and girls of Pakistan in urban and rural areas. Sexual harassment reduces women’s and girls’ freedom of movement. It reduces their ability to participate in school, work and public life. It limits their access to essential services and their enjoyment of cultural and recreational opportunities. It also negatively impacts their health and well-being. Although violence in the private domain is now widely recognized as a human rights violation, violence against women and girls, especially sexual harassment in public spaces, remains a largely neglected issue, with few laws or policies in place to prevent and address it.

Given this context, the project will work to ensure safe and suitable transportation services for women, and empower them through freedom of mobility and curb sexual harassment.

In his remarks, Mr. Zubair Asghar Qureshi (Provincial Secretary Transport, KP) shares that women buses is a “first brick in a bigger vision” Photo: UN Women/Faria Salman

During the opening address Mr. Neil Buhne (UN Resident Coordinator) shared: “Public transportation is the cheapest and practical route adopted by women to access their work places, colleges, medical facilities and visit family. Travelling with the fear of harassment and having to face it every day brings down their productivity drastically. Women must feel safe, secured and comfortable when travelling.” He stressed that transportation services must protect women during travel and reduce the risk of women and girls becoming victims of public harassment.

In his address H.E. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Pakistan Mr. Takashi Kurai emphasized: “This project will contribute towards the socio-economic empowerment and development of women. It will also help the women of KP in accessing their workplace and institutions without any fear of harassment. This project is a huge step forward towards a positive change in society’s perception regarding women and hopefully, soon we will achieve a society where women and men both can live freely and happily.”

Mr Mohammad Haider Reza, (Director a.i. UNOPS) highlighted: “Sexual harassment of women is not limited to the workplace. It can and does occur when a woman leaves home for work or studies. Women are either forced to give up the opportunity of working or studying, or face this harassing behaviour when they have no other option but to use the public transport system.”

Mr. Jamshed Kazi (Country Representative, UN Women) said: “The introduction of women-only buses in KP is a simple idea with potentially transformative results for women’s empowerment. As an ever-increasing number of women in the province attain higher educational degrees and seek employment in both the public and private sector, they need to be able to access safe, cost-effective and reliable transport, free from harassment or fear of violence. We applaud this initiative of the Provincial Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa starting with the cities of Abbottabad, Mardan and Peshawar, which we hope will pave the way for many more cities and districts to benefit from this much-awaited service with the generous support of the Japanese Government and in partnership with UNOPS and UN Women.”

Mr. Zubair Asghar Qureshi (Provincial Secretary Transport and Mass Transit Department, Government of KP) in acknowledging harassment faced by women and girls raised the issue of “shackles of tradition that bar our women and keep them confined to their homes.” He added that this is a “first brick in a bigger vision” and that “provision of women only buses will give them the confidence to venture out and do new things. We are taking it one step at a time, and integration of men and women on buses will follow in due course.”

In delivering the closing remarks, Ms. Neelam Toru, (Chairperson, Provincial Commission on the Status of Women, KP) congratulated all parties involved in providing a much needed and required effort for safe transportation systems for women. “For women living in a patriarchal society in Pakistan, and specifically the women of KP, it will be a big landmark for women to be able to access work, travel to and from hostels and commute for various reasons every day without the fear of being harassed. Any steps taken to integrate women into society and facilitating them at every step of the way is highly appreciated and I congratulate the Government of Japan, UNOPS, UN Women and the Transport Department of KP for spearheading this initiative.”

The women friendly buses will be provided by the KP Transport Department and piloted in the cities of Peshawar, Abbottabad and Mardan. UN Women and UNOPS will also work closely with the local Urban Planning Unit, traffic police and other key stakeholders in making existing infrastructures more responsive to the needs of women, whilst promoting a cultural shift to enhance women’s mobility.

This initiative is part of UN Women’s 16 Days of Activism campaigning against gender based violence, and mobilizing partners to make available safe public spaces for women, and end sexual harassment for female commuters on public vehicles.

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For more information contact:

Faria Salman
Strategic Management and Partnerships Officer &
Head of Communications for UN Women Pakistan