Oh, I see! moments
Travel Cultures Language

Pink Transportation Takes the Wheel

by Eva Boynton on August 15, 2017

A woman wearing a pink scarf and driving a pink taxi, illustrating the opportunity for women to work for women's rights and gender equality with pink transportation (image © Hannah Arista).

Two percent of taxi drivers are female while sixty percent are passengers.
 She Taxis empowers women to jump into the driver’s seat. 
© Hannah Arista Photography

Steering Toward Women’s Rights and Gender Equality

PINK, PINK, PINK! Bubblegum, watermelon, flamingo, rose, pink panther, punch pink, and HOT pink are just a few of the rosy shades taking to city streets today. Together, all things pink create a public visual statement of solidarity with women’s rights.

A pink taxi in London, showing a pink transportation alternative to help women advance women's rights and gender equality (image © Ken/Flkr).

Women-only taxi in London
© Ken/Flkr

It sounds a little like the pink DIY-knitted “pussyhats” movement, right? But the wave of fuchsia, to which I refer—Pink Transportationcame before the worldwide flash flood of pink.

Pink Transportation, also known as  PT, addresses gender equality as it strives to improve both women’s mobility and life beyond the steering wheel.

A Long Time Coming . . . and Not Without Debate

Women-only transportation can be traced back to 1909 in New York as part of the women’s suffrage movement. At that time, “suffragette cars,” passenger cars reserved for women only, ran during rush hour on the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad’s “Hudson Tube.”

Although they appeared successful, the cars ran only for six months. They came close to becoming a more permanent installation, but lost the debate to people who believed “. . . men are the best protection that women have in a crowded car.”

Suffragettes protesting in New York for women's rights and advance gender equality (image © New York Times/Wiki Commons).

New York’s suffrage movement inspired the first women-only transportation.
by Paul Thompson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Even in contemporary times, women are confronted with gender inequality on public transportation. Often, women are given advice regarding how to navigate: “avoid this area”; “take this other route”; “don’t take a taxi alone at night.”

One rider recommended these taxi safety specifics to avoid unwanted attention for just being herself—a woman:

  1. Check the plates of a taxi before entering.
  2. Cover a short skirt or a low-cut blouse with a sweater.
  3. Have money ready to pay so you can get your change and get out quickly.
  4. When you step out of a taxi, don’t go anywhere until the driver has pulled away.

Now that women-only transportation has resurfaced and spread like pink wildfire, the current debate is whether it creates a divide between genders rather than a solution. As the following video shows, many women and pink companies alike acknowledge that their women-only transportation may be a quick fix to a problem that runs deeper culturally and socially. 

“When both sexes are respected, we will not need “pink” or “blue,” says one woman who has been driving Pink Taxis in Mexico City for ten years.

Still, without safe transportation, women are less likely to take advantage of urban resources. This results in marginalization and less community participation, which in turn reinforces old gender role stereotypes.

Women riding a women-only train in Mumbai, India, showing how pink transportation can advance women's rights and gender equality around the world (image © Madhav Pai).

“Ladies Only, for all twenty-four hours” advertises the yellow sign on a train in Mumbai, India.
© Madhav Pai

While in and of itself, the pink movement may not solve systemic gender inequality and male violence against women, it does put the topic in the collective forefront.  In concert with governments and human rights’ organizations, it increases awareness of gender issues, impacts mindsets that appear “inherent” and “unchangeable,” and empowers women.

The Worldwide Power of Pink

From east to west and north to south around the globe, women are coming together to materialize a movement that has fought an uphill battle.

  • In Sivas, Turkey, women drive Pink Taxis. The doors are stamped with wings, a symbol that promises safe travel to women and children.
  • In Lahore, Pakistan, Zar Aslam, who is President and CEO of the Environmental Protection Fund, began the Pink Rickshaw initiative. She invites women to apply to own and run their own rickshaws.
A pink rickshaw, driven by a female driver in Pakistan, illustrating how women advance women's rights and gender equality through pink transportation (image © Sara Naseem).

As pink rickshaw drivers, Pakistani women become entrepreneurs and advance women’s rights. 
Photo by Sara Naseem for The Environmental Protection Fund

  • In New York, SheRides provides a car app “focused on the needs of women,” where women call on other women to transport them safely day or night.
  • In Dubai, women who drive Pink Taxis, dress in pink headscarves. They greet female travelers at the airport.
  • In Mexico City, Atenas (Athena), a pink bus line transports women to and from work.
    Athena bus line in Mexico City, illustrating a type of pink transportation that advances women's rights and gender equality (image © Amy Graglia).

    On Women’s International Day, UN Women launched 50 women-only buses in
    Mexico City. On its side, each bus features a historical female figure.
    © Amy Graglia

Many other countries, such as Brazil, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Taiwan, United Kingdom, and Egypt, are also seeing pink.

Oh, I See Pink

Wanting to experience the pink movement first-hand, I decided to take my first pink transportation, and the metro in Mexico City offered the perfect opportunity. Rush hour looks like this:

A crowd of men waiting for the metro in Mexico City, illustrating a safety issue for women, addressed by pink transportation in its work for women's rights and gender equality (image © Sergio Beristain).

Forget personal space during rush hour in Mexico City.
© Sergio Beristain

Feeling like a sheep entering an already packed corral and struggling to maneuver the mob, I spied a pink sign declaring solo mujeres (women only) over an entrance protected by two female security guards in pink vests. I shoved my way past the pink signs and found myself onboard, shoulder to shoulder in a metro car with just women. There was an unmistakable change in the atmosphere. Women were smiling, laughing, and engaging with one another.

At a stop near the end of the line, several men filed in and the car became quiet. No more jokes, no more smiling, no more eye contact. The women made a clear effort to avoid unwanted attention, which they now expected to receive.

In that pink, packed metro car in Mexico City, I too had experienced freedom from judgment and fear. Once the men stepped on and the dynamic changed, I noticed my guard went up, as did that of the women beside me. Together, we intentionally assumed a reserved composure. This is why women around the globe have declared that the speed in which cultural and social change occurs is not sufficient for their immediate safety needs.

Though gender separation can sound harsh and anti-progressive, it is one way to challenge the unacceptable advances that many women experience on public transportation. Pink transportation will have a role in the world until the issue of gender equality improves—until more men and women have “Oh, I See” Pink Moments of their own.

A woman flying with a pink umbrella, symbolizing women's efforts to advance women's rights to mobility and gender equality (image © Unsplash/Pexels).

Airborne woman takes mobility into her own hands.

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