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Bangladeshi Women Turn to Female-Only Ride-Sharing Apps For Their Safety

90 percent of women in Bangladesh face sexual harassment on public transport, a longstanding concern for daily commuters.

by Meera Navlakha
13 August 2019, 10:49am

Images courtesy of Lily Ride via Instagram; Facebook.

“For women and by women,” is the slogan of Lily Ride, a women-only ride-sharing service that is currently gaining popularity in Bangladesh.

The app is the first in the country to offer bike rides exclusively to women. Clad in red T-shirts with the company’s logo, female riders make a living helping other women arrive at their chosen destination worry-free.

The company was launched in December 2017 by Syed Saif and Shah Tushar. Saif first had the idea when his wife encountered an inappropriate male driver on her way to university. She received a text from a male motorbike taxi driver after her commute, which made her “really uncomfortable,” Saif told the BBC.

“That was the moment I thought we can come up with something that can ensure convenience for women,” he said.

According to the BBC, more than 90 percent of women using public transport in Bangladesh say they have encountered some form of harassment. In order to combat such widespread incidents, Lily Ride was created to make the commute for women in the country both safe and comfortable.

Bike services have become increasingly popular in recent years as a workaround for the capital Dhaka’s notoriously traffic-clogged roads. A 2016 study by Brac University in Bangladesh revealed that traffic in the city moved at 6.8 kilometers per hour (kph), much slower than the 21.2 kph in 2004.

To use Lily Ride, women have to provide identification details and a Bangladeshi national identity card (NID) photograph. Once the app registers these details, women commuters can start booking rides.

It now gets about 300 ride requests a day, which is why the company is aggressively working towards training new drivers to add to its current crop of 19.

This increase comes despite the fact that women in Bangladesh are still criticised for riding motorbikes, which is traditionally seen as only appropriate for men.

Apart from Lily Ride, other existing ride-sharing companies have also integrated features geared towards women. For example, Share a Motorcycle (SAM) and Obhai, which are already established riding services, now have options that allow women to request female drivers.

Female-only riding apps are seen as a step towards advancing women's freedom in Bangladesh.

The country has seen progress in terms of gender equality and women’s rights in the past years. According to UN Women, it ranked highest in South Asia in the 2017 Gender Gap Index. But discrimination still exists in certain spheres, such as in issues of divorce, custody of children, and inheritance. In 2018, a study by the Asian Development Bank found that women’s participation in Bangladesh’s workforce was rising faster than that of men’s, but issues of safety -- especially in public transportation -- have the chance of hindering this.

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