A new lease of life for the Pink (Rickshaw) Ladies

Nasreen Ghafoor, one of the first drivers at The Pink Rickshaw. Photo credit: The Environment Protection Fund.

With a video call full of laughter, female empowerment and even tears, some of the members of The Circle caught up with the women of The Pink Rickshaw Initiative, a project envisioned and implemented in Lahore, Pakistan, by The Environment Protection Fund (TEPF).

The project has two goals: to enable women to become economically independent and to provide a safe public transport option to the women of Lahore.

Zar Aslam, founder of The Pink Rickshaw Initiative and President and CEO at TEPF, started by introducing some of the women involved in the project, including single, mother-of-one Ansa Noreen, who has now been driving her pink rickshaw for over a year.

Women such as Ansa are trained to become rickshaw drivers and leased a pink rickshaw to work with for two years. During that time, they are expected to contribute back to the scheme with an affordable part of their income so that other women can join the project and become rickshaw drivers too. At the end of the two years, they become the sole owners of their pink rickshaw.

For Ansa Noreen, things weren’t easy when she first received her rickshaw.

“My family were extremely angry with me at first but I was not disheartened. I thought, ‘I have just been given a new life, I don’t care if no one speaks to me’. People even told me to sell the rickshaw but I won’t part with it till death”, she said.

Ansa, who lives with her daughter, has also faced problems from male rickshaw drivers: “They often start arguments and try not to let people on my rickshaw but I stand my ground, keep myself to myself and wait for customers to come to me. When women and girls see me, they get excited and scream ‘wow a pink rickshaw, we will take this one!’ – it makes them happy”.

According to Stop Street Harassment, 92% of women surveyed in Islamabad said they would like to have access to women-only public transport, and a report published by the ILO Country Office for Pakistan in 2011 showed that the lack of safe transport for women in Pakistan “has exacerbated socioeconomic exclusion”. The Pink Rickshaw Initiative is trying to address this issue by offering a women-only public transport service.

Having driven the women and girls of Pakistan around for a year, Ansa’s tenacity and hard-work led to her being given the Token of Appreciation award from Lahore University of Management Sciences, where she received a standing ovation after sharing her story.

“Some women got emotional and cried and told me that I am a very strong woman and that I am to stay like this and not to relent to the pressures of society. I really liked and appreciated that.”

Speaking on how The Pink Rickshaw Initiative has changed her life, Ansa concluded: “Now I have a good life, a very good life, and I am very happy and grateful to you all [The Circle members] and to the Madame [Zar Aslam] for that. May Allah bless you all and may you all help lots of other women to be happy the way I am.”

Another beneficiary of the scheme is 36-year-old Rehana Kausar, who lives with her four children and husband in a joint family system, where 28 people live in one 1,600-square-foot house.

Having received her keys for her rickshaw in December 2016, Rehana joined the scheme to provide a brighter future for her children.

“I have learnt to drive the rickshaw so that my children can get the best education I can provide them with. Thanks to all of you, I am already more financially secure and have covered my children’s school fees. What more can I ask for?” she said.

The Pink Rickshaw Initiative aims to challenge gender roles and help bring down stereotypes in Pakistan by helping women learn to drive and earn a living. And we are achieving it together.

42-year-old Sanya Noordin says her rickshaw, which “flies like an aeroplane”, has not only helped her to regain her economic independence, but also pushed her to help others.

“I was doing my usual run picking up fares when an elderly, disabled man approached me. He had no legs and nobody would take him, so I told him to get in”, she said.

“It was a three-hour journey but I ended up making fares both on the way there and the way back — and the best part was helping somebody in need, that makes me happy.”

Other beneficiaries pointed out how the benefits of the scheme have a ripple effect that reach their wider community too. Malika Nisreen believes it has helped her stand on her own two feet and not have to depend on the support of her children, increasing their overall family income, and 35-year-old domestic cook Nasreen Ghafoor believes her rickshaw (aptly nicknamed Pinky) has helped bring good luck and opened more doors for women in Lahore, as well as making women and girls feel safer when travelling with a female driver.

The empowering, inspiring chat with the lovely ladies of Lahore ended with these kind words from Zar Aslam: “I have always said ‘be each other’s strength, be of help to each other and pave the way for each other’ — like the women at The Circle have paved the way for us”.

To learn more about The Pink Rickshaw Initiative or to make a donation, please go to The Pink Rickshaw Initiative.


@shanhodge
Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.


The Circle Calls for Three-trillion-dollar Fashion Industry to Pay Living Wage

A substantive report into wages in the global fashion industry is launched today at The Copenhagen Fashion Summit by fashion campaigner Livia Firth, human rights barrister Jessica Simor QC and journalist Lucy Siegle—all members of the women’s rights organization The Circle. Fashion Focus: the Fundamental Right to a Living Wage examines the highly remunerative fast fashion sector through a legal lens. It concludes that a living wage is a fundamental human right which all states are obliged to guarantee.

This is the first such report from The Circle, founded by Annie Lennox, the acclaimed singer, songwriter, human rights and social justice campaigner, who says, ‘I’m enormously proud that The Circle has produced this seminal report on the fundamental right of a Living Wage in the global fashion supply chain. It’s a strong piece of work that reflects the core purpose and mission of The Circle: women using their skills, expertise, networks and passion to help support and transform the lives of women and girls around the world’.

Masterminded by Jessica Simor QC, one of the UK’s leading specialists in human rights and public law, the report takes evidence from fourteen major garment hotspots across the globe, where the bulk of our fashion is produced. A network of legal professionals based in those countries each provide an up-to-date snapshot of wages and working conditions. Using this evidence, and working with industry experts such as The Clean Clothes Campaign and The Fair Wage Network, Simor and her team join the dots between international law, the fashion industry and human rights.

The report makes the legal case for Living Wage as a human right. It shows that living wages—remuneration sufficient to support the basic needs of a family and a decent life—have been recognised in international law for more than a century. Yet the fast fashion sector remains synonymous with poverty wages, directly affecting the 75 million garment workers in the supply chain, 85% of whom are women.

Livia Firth (Creative Director of Eco-Age, founder of the Green Carpet Challenge and The Circle founding member) says: ‘It is today widely accepted that neither cheap clothes, nor vast corporate profits can justify the human suffering which is today involved in fast fashion supply chains. I consider this ground-breaking report as the beginning of a new era for the fashion industry where we will be able to treat garment workers as equals’.

Jessica Simor, QC says, ‘At the moment retailers and brands actively promote the fact that they pay minimum wage. But what we demonstrate in this report is that this is no answer. In none of the countries surveyed does the minimum wage come anywhere close to the living wage on any scale’.

‘Compliance with the UN Guiding Principles, by reference to the fundamental right to a living wage and principles of international labour law established nearly a century ago can put an end to the race to the bottom, stopping states from selling their people’s labour at less than the price of a decent life’.

Journalist and fashion activist Lucy Siegle says, ‘Working with lawyers of this calibre gives us the opportunity to broaden fashion advocacy. We urgently need new architecture for the global garment industry and we hope that this represents a substantial step forward on a living wage’.

The report is available to download here.

The Circle has launched a donation page to help fund the next phase of this important work.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

The Circle and The Lawyers Circle

The Circle is a registered charity founded by Annie Lennox working to achieve equality for women in a fairer world. The Circle brings women from all walks of life together so that they can share stories and knowledge of the injustice and inequality many women across the globe face and take action to bring about the necessary change. Within The Circle is The Lawyers Circle—a network of women in the legal profession who lend their skills, network and resources to support and promote the rights of marginalized women worldwide. Those involved include senior partners, QCs, in-house lawyers and solicitors who work to promote and assist the rights of women in developing countries.

For more information about The Circle contact Sioned Jones, Executive Director (sioned@thecircle.ngo).

Livia Firth

Livia Firth is the creative director of Eco-Age (a brand consultancy company specialized in sustainability) and founder of The Green Carpet Challenge (Eco-Age communication arm). Livia Firth has executive produced, with Lucy Siegle, The True Cost—a documentary which highlights the environmental devastation and social justice implications of fast fashion worldwide. The movie is available on Netflix and on The True Cost website.

Lucy Siegle

British journalist and broadcaster Lucy Siegle is author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? and has spent ten years investigating the global fashion supply chain.

The Fair Wage Network

The Fair Wage Network was founded by Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead and Auret van Heerden with the aim to regroup all the actors involved along the supply chain and present in the CSR arena who would be ready to commit themselves to work to promote better wage practices. The idea is to set up an interactive and dynamic process involving NGOs, managers, workers’ representatives and researchers.

The Clean Clothes Campaign

The Clean Clothes Campaign is a global alliance of organisations which campaigns to promote and protect the fundamental rights of garment workers worldwide. One of its three key objectives is to campaign for a real living wage and over recent years it has been campaigning alongside workers’ organizations across Asia for the acceptance and implementation of an Asia Floor Wage.