In the light of recent events, two friends – Ramsha and Romesa – decided to start Safe Rides. This is a facebook group for women who need a ride to a certain location, but feel uncomfortable or unsafe travelling in public transport. It’s just the kind of support we love to see amongst women; after all, if we don’t help each other, who will? Scroll down to read our interview with the two girls who started Safe Rides and find out more about this amazing initiative:
What’s Safe Rides?
Safe Rides is an initiative that allows women to travel safely with other women all over Pakistan, either by ride sharing, carpooling or requesting fellow members to stay on call with them during their ride. We have provided a platform to women where they can discuss their routes and help each other in getting to their destination safely without having to deal with strange men.
How did you come up with the idea? What makes this initiative unique?
The idea came to us after we both talked about how unsafe we felt driving alone or travelling through services like Careem and Uber on our own, especially after the Motorway Rape Incident. The incident shook us to the core and knowing that women are not safe even in the car with their children is frightening to say the very least.
We think that Safe Rides is unique due to our target audience (women) and the dependence on the sisterhood within the community. Providing a platform to just let women talk to one another and help each other without a third party seems to be a much smoother operation.
How would you describe your process of support?
We have kept it an open space where any member can post without having to wait for a post approval. They mention their city, destination and timings, and girls travelling through the same route then contact the author of the post.
Do you believe your initiative will help curb the issue or is it an alternative to no governmental action?
It is sad that we had to get to the stage where intervention was needed just to let women travel without being scared in their own country. Safe Rides is our way of doing our best to ensure the safety of our fellow women, in a country where rape cases keep mounting on by the second and getting ignored by those in power.
While we do hope that we can impact the issue and help reduce such inhumane incidents, we believe that the government needs to tackle the issue from its very grassroots, i.e. education so that women are treated as human beings instead of objects.
What was your biggest challenge in developing Safe Rides?
The biggest issue would have to be managing over 10k members of the group. Many of the requests that come in are from fake accounts or accounts owned by men. Just having to vet all those can be exhausting, and it shows how unsafe even safe spaces can be if not taken care for properly. Thankfully, we are getting all the help we can from women in the group because of whom we can try to make Safe Rides as safe as possible.
What does the background process of user verification look like?
When we get a request, two of the most important things we look at are the posts and the profile itself. You can tell a lot about a person’s character and who they are, from what they share and what they like. Even though many profiles may seem like they belong to women at first glance, when we delve deeper into their profile, their posts, the pages they like and the groups they are a part of, can be many factors that would keep us from accepting their request to join Safe Rides as a member.
How are you going to ensure the accuracy of information provided by community members?
We have several mechanisms in place where members can report any suspicious activity or profiles, and those profiles are blocked immediately. We have also guided members not to share their exact address and phone numbers until they’ve talked to the other person and verified their credibility.
What difference do you plan to create in Pakistan’s current approach to combatting sexual harassment and assault?
We want to create a safe space for women where they can travel without having to worry about who else is in the vehicle with them. We want to also focus on ways to defend ourselves – whether it is in the form of self-defence classes or creating pepper sprays – and being able to depend on women for support (after all, we will not be able to get anywhere unless women support one another wholeheartedly).
The true change in Pakistan’s approach to combatting sexual harassment and assault would come from policy changes and accountability, along with using education to raise actual awareness about the matter. But our initiative builds on teaching women how to defend themselves, as well as giving them a space where they won’t have to practice such measures and instead, feel comfortable.
Do you have particular goals you are aiming for?
When we initiated Safe Rides, the main goal we had in mind was to give women an option. We believe that is still the focus of the group. This was never a way for us to capitalise on the lack of safety women experience in this country. Instead, what we had hoped to achieve (and have started achieving) was creating a support group for women that allowed them to travel and depend on each other, without any expectations except their safety and privacy. Hence, this group is completely free of charge and just serves as a platform to facilitate carpooling and ride sharing.
How are you planning to keep a track of Safe Rides’s progress/impact?
We think a huge impact was observed when many celebrities sponsored Safe Rides and raised awareness about what the platform was and why it was needed. Our main KPI for Safe Rides has to be the growth we have observed in the number of members, as well as the amount of posts we are getting on the group – the variety of posts shows that this is not just a Karachi group, but is expanding all over Pakistan.
Are you planning to partner with other organisations?
If a time comes where other organisations feel that they wish to support or expand Safe Rides, we are most definitely open to their proposals. The main concern when expanding such an initiative is that we wish to avoid any capitalisation or exploitation of something that’s a basic human right i.e. travelling safely in our own country without being attacked.
In wake of the recent events, what special actions does Safe Rides plan to take?
The actions that were taken by Safe Rides so far have been focused on ensuring that the group is a safe space for women away from any male account holders on Facebook. We have ensured and gone through the vetting process very carefully to provide women the platform where they feel safe enough to ask for help.
What impact do you think organisations such as yourself can create in mobilising action and policy institutions?
We are hoping that organisations and initiatives like Safe Rides allow the government and policy institutions to observe and expand on the current opportunities to help women and all the vulnerable communities in Pakistan. There is definitely a success in such platforms, and we think that the engagement we achieved from Safe Rides, makes it a perfect place to look into when taking action on what to do for the women – in simpler terms: we want them to ask women what policies should be set in place for women to feel safer.
In the future, do you plan to expand the system of Safe Rides from social media into a networking application based platform?
There is definitely something that can be done to explore the safety of women more, and we are looking into exploring all the possible avenues to ensure a massive reach within the audience.
How can one support Safe Rides?
At this stage, we are seeing a lot of response from the whole country. We feel that the best way to support us is to share this initiative as much as possible with all your female friends and family members, along with nations actively doing their best to help each other out in need without expecting anything in return.
For all who are reading this, please speak up when someone is talking about another person in a derogatory manner; please speak up when you hear another person objectify women. This is the step we have taken so that women can help each other out and we feel that it is time that we take actions to support what we speak for.