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Are Uber and Careem empowering women in Pakistan?

It could be argued that women’s accessibility to commute and women’s participation in the workforce has witnessed an increase since ride hailing apps like Careem and Uber came into operation in Pakistan.

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News Analysis |

Ride-hailing is steadily gaining popularity in Pakistan ever since the debut of US based Taxicab giant Uber in 2016. Closely followed by Dubai-based rival Careem, between the both of them, the country’s public transport landscape has been reshuffled. Independent and usually indigenous taxis drivers had previously monopolized the cab industry in Pakistan.

Up until this moment, the only ride-hailing possible in Pakistan’s cities was to stand by the curb or at a taxi stand and flag down taxis. Careem and Uber have not only allowed consumers the luxury of booking a Taxicab ranging from regular to business grade cars from the comfort of their own smartphone, but it has also allowed the secure regulation of rides, fees and drivers.

A 20 percent subsidy added to the verification process involved when signing up for such apps can help target female riders and offer them cheaper prices as well as security in their daily commutes.

Most importantly, however, such companies have allowed the female workforce within developing South Asian cities to commute securely at varying hours. The chaperoning which was once necessary to navigate urban networks has become largely obsolete now that verified and educated drivers are putting privately owned cars at the disposal of corporations and consumers alike.

Read more: Could rising competition and new lawsuit stop Uber’s successful run?

According to statistics by ProPakistani, a year ago, 73% of surveyees with a Smartphone had a ride sharing app. Careem and Uber together occupy the vast majority of the consumer base at 96% and are evenly balanced in market shares. Various portals have compared the two competitors and judging by the numbers most people are well aware of the differences.

For instance, Uber is usually considered cheaper and has a more comprehensive app. Whereas Careem makes up for what it lacks in terms of 24/7 customer service, more user-friendly – albeit buggy – app. For drivers as well reviews were mixed, with Careem slightly getting the upper hand for its brick-and-mortar offices, investment opportunities in terms of third-party fleets.

Careem and Uber have not only allowed consumers the luxury of booking a Taxicab ranging from regular to business grade cars from the comfort of their own smartphone, but it has also allowed the secure regulation of rides, fees and drivers.

Both Uber and Careem have also received equal rounds of criticism mostly pertaining to security, immodest practices by drivers and exploitation of drivers by consumers. There have been security concerns pertaining to drivers themselves. Women are also most concerned about these issues. However, Careem for instance has taken giant steps in not only securely accommodating female customers but is also pretty vocal on female empowerment.

Careem currently employs women drivers and in Pakistan female riders make up over 30 percent of its customers. Even in predominantly male-prevalent Saudi Arabia, women constitute 80 percent taxicab service customers. Careem also aims to set up a female workforce of 20,000 drivers globally by 2020.

Read more: Moving in reverse: Careem launches bike service after Car and Aeroplane…

Earlier last year, the government initiated the “Pink Taxi” service to cater for working women who routinely face sexual harassment from male chauffeurs. Driven only by female drivers the Taxi app will allow working women to utilize safer options for public commuting.

Karachi-based journalist, Zebunnisa Burki, is of the opinion that while women-focused transport eased the problems of a growing demographic of mobile women, it didn’t cater to the greater majority of working women who could not afford the pricey fares of such a private service.

Women are also most concerned about these issues. However, Careem for instance has taken giant steps in not only securely accommodating female customers but is also pretty vocal on female empowerment.

In light of this revelation, it has become necessary for the government to do more than depend on third-party, privately owned game changers to manipulate the commuting industry. In the case of Careem and Uber a simple government subsidy targeting female drivers would further improve the chances of such women in commuting.

Read more: Provincial governments preventing Careem expansion

In most large cities of Pakistan, Uber and Careem run an auto/rickshaw/motorbike service which may not only have women drivers but are comparatively cheaper than the private car option. Another feature that could beef up the security of passengers is to provide the NIC number of their drivers on the app. A 20 percent subsidy added to the verification process involved when signing up for such apps can help target female riders and offer them cheaper prices as well as security in their daily commutes.

The issue of sexual harassment is a grave one and such a move on part of the government can have the added benefit of creating awareness and empowering women to take hold of their rights within the competitive market that almost all developing countries have. With women not being alienated within the workforce productivity, equality and security can see a positive rise than ever before.


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