Islamabad: Uber is teaching its drivers in Pakistan how not to sexually harass women, a spokeswoman said today, after the popular transport app launched in the conservative country where women are often hassled on public transport.
In Pakistan, “there is lack of knowledge on what constitutes sexual harassment”, said Shaden Abdellatif, a spokeswoman for ride-hailing service that launched in the teeming eastern city of Lahore on Thursday.
“It seems it is not part of the conversation in basic education”, she added, saying only Uber drivers in Lahore and in the Egyptian capital Cairo had to undergo the training.
California-based Uber was officially banned from the Indian capital Delhi after one of its drivers raped a young woman passenger there in 2014 in a case that made international headlines.
Women in Pakistan have fought for their rights for decades in a country where so-called honour killings and acid attacks are commonplace and where females face routine public harassment.
The seminar was brief — about half an hour of the four hours of training that Uber’s several hundred drivers in Lahore receive — and will continue to be conducted for newly-joined drivers in the future.
Trainees were also told not to contact women after dropping them off, or to pass their passengers’ phone numbers on to others.
“Our primary objective is that drivers understand that sexual harassment is not just about assaulting or harming someone,” said Tooba Fatima, from Pakistan-based social enterprise RABTT, which designed the seminar.
“Making someone uncomfortable is harassment, whatever your intention is,” Fatima said.
“People here tend to stare, make comments on the way one is dressed, ask questions about who you are going to see or why. And it is the woman who ends up being told: ‘You should not be out so late’, ‘Why would you go here or there’.”
Abdellatif told AFP the company is trying to offer “a safer space in public transport for women through educating the drivers, even on a very basic level”.
Three quarters of Pakistani women do not participate in the labour market, mainly due to a lack of safe transportation, according to a study by the International Labour Organisation.
But there has been a slew of recent initiatives to redress the balance, such as “The Pink Rickshaw” scheme in Lahore, which aims to empower working-class women by providing them with vehicles to transport other females.
The government of Punjab province meanwhile launched an awareness campaign last year called “Women on Wheels” to highlight gender-based violence and street harassment.