Women in Pakistan are taking advantage of ride-hailing app Careem to make their lives easier by opening new roads in their lives – quite literally – by providing mobility that is otherwise scarce.
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Women are often forced to rely on poor public transportation options and overcrowded buses in a country where private car ownership is scarce.
While Careem and other Uber-style apps are hoping to address the issue, their cost puts such solutions out of reach for many working-class Pakistani women.
While buses cost roughly 10 to 20 cents per ride, an app-hailed ride can run at least US$1.50 or more.
However, the peace of mind such an app can provide is priceless, especially in a country where 85 percent of women who use public transportation face harassment. In a heavily patriarchal and traffic-heavy city like Karachi, the availability of a safe and secure private automobile solution makes all the difference.
“Don’t look at a woman over and over again in your rearview mirror,” Careem instructor Muhammad Wahaj told his drivers or “captains,” as they are called, according to New York Times. “Don’t make comments about the way they dress. Don’t ask them if they’re married.”
Such training has helped the company gain a sense of trust among women in Pakistan, where women comprise 70 percent of the service's customers.
In the ultraconservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Careem and Uber had already established themselves as reliable means for women to increase the breadth of their freedom countries where they remain deprived of the right to drive. In Egypt, women themselves comprise a large portion of the app's captains.
Careem wasn’t initially marketed toward women in Pakistan, but they make up 70 percent of its customers, the company says.
Established in July 2012, Careem now operates in more than 80 cities across 13 countries in the broader Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and Pakistan.
“I never used public transport,” Huda Baig, aged 27, told The Times. “Only rickshaws or taxis when I had to.”
“But it’s an intimidating process – you don’t know them, you have to haggle,” she continued. “Otherwise, I relied on my friends or family for rides.” Baig now credits Careem with boosting her ability to live like she hadn't before, using the service to go to the gym or meet up with friends freely.
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Likewise, in an industry that has been plagued worldwide with charges that ride-hailing services fail to vet their drivers, Careem's Pakistani management prioritize background checks of their prospective hires.
“It was literally the first thing we did,” Careem chief executive Junaid Iqbal told The Times. “Luckily, that message has been communicated. People understand there’s a certain amount of work that goes into the background check, so women feel safe.”
By this December, the company also hopes to recruit about 1,000 female captains across the country. It currently only has 17 female captains.
Arif Hasan, an architect and social researcher, does not have much faith in a solution for working-class women anytime soon.
“There’s a strong anti-poor bias in planning and policy,” architect and social researcher Arif Hasan said.
Many working-class women are yet to benefit from high-tech solutions like Careem – many simply haven't heard yet of it yet.
For Arif, the solution lies in a modernized social mindset as well as new public solutions such as improved city infrastructure and a new fast-rail system.