Increasingly we hear about women e-rickshaw drivers, bus drivers, women cabbies and what not. And there is absolutely no dearth of awe-inducing posts on social media when a passenger calls for a cab and a woman comes to pick them up, it’s almost certain that they have to tweet or Instagram their picture. Why does a woman rider always blow our minds? It’s because they are still so few in the business and men inherently dictate the space.

Research shows

A recent survey conducted by Safetipin – a technology platform that uses apps to collect data in order to make cities and public spaces safer and more inclusive for women – found that women in the cities of Bhopal, Gwalior and Jodhpur consider using public spaces and public transport unsafe. On a scale of one to five, where one is completely unsafe and five is completely safe, all scored a mean of two. They conducted the study in these three cities because the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) found these cities recorded the highest crime rates making these cities the most unsafe for women.

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The survey included responses from 219 women across the three cities between the age group of  26 to 35 years, whereas the lowest proportion of respondents surveyed fall within the age bracket of 56 years and above. A large percentage of respondents constituted skilled workers (35 percent) followed by unskilled workers (32 percent). While teachers, professors, private and government employees constituted the skilled workforce, the unskilled workers comprised domestic help, construction workers and female vendors. It clearly indicated that women largely depend on public transport for navigating in the cities.

Why does a woman rider always blow our minds? It’s because they are still so few in the business and men inherently dictate the space.

However, a majority of them feel unsafe while accessing and using public transport in their cities. Regarding identifying unsafe spaces in the city, amongst the top five unsafe places identified at an aggregated level, using public transport was significantly high as reported by 95 percent of respondents. This was followed by marketplaces and waiting for public transport, as reported by 89 percent and 84 percent of the respondents respectively. 

While it is fairly established that women find it difficult to use public transport, the service providers are oblivious to their trauma. “A majority of the transport provider participants felt that instances of sexual harassment were low in public transport. Many of them mentioned that such instances have neither occurred in their vehicles nor have they heard of such instances,” says the report. So the gap is clearly huge.

Government’s viewpoint

In light of this discourse, the Delhi government recently announced a free bus ride scheme for women along with recruiting marshals in buses across the city. And while this received mixed reactions from women’s rights activists and the public in general, it did start the discussion around increasing women’s mobility in the public realm. Talking about it at an event, Ashwathi Muralidharan, member of Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi said that we need to see that only 11 percent of Delhi’s workforce is women and the percentage that uses public transport is only 30 percent.

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“It still means that expenses incurred during travel are one of the major impediments why women don’t go out and take public transport. That’s why we made it free for women and in only 20-25 days, there has been a 10 per cent increase in ridership of women in Delhi,” said Muralidharan adding that initiatives like CCTV cameras and panic button installations in buses will also help women feel safer.

Do private cab-agregating services care?

While the government’s concern in this area does feel genuine but the fear of getting sexually harassed in public transport amongst women is monumental. Several news items around crimes against women in cabs, buses, autos etc. have generally supported it too over the years. Talking about if private cab-aggregating services care about women’s safety, Avantika Gode, Public Policy officer of Uber said, “We started with allowing one to share the details of their ride with other persons. But Uber is also part of the larger ecosystem, we can do as much as it is in our capacity but there is so much more that depends on other stakeholders need to do. And as the conversations evolved we realized that we need to bring these stakeholders together, partner with the right people and enhance women’s safety on the platform and beyond.”

She also talked about how a gender sensitization training of their driver-partners has made the passengers feel safer along with recruiting women driver-partners. Although, she did agree that the recruitment initiative isn’t entirely successful.  

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“A Majority of the transport provider participants felt that instances of sexual harassment were low in public transport. Many of them mentioned that such instances have neither occurred in their vehicles nor have they heard of such instances.” – Report

Where are the women drivers?

Azad foundation not just trains women drivers but also provides them with work opportunities, trying to change gender dynamics in the public transport space. “We had set up Sakha Consulting only to provide work opportunities to women who we trained in driving because at that time there were no services that hired women drivers. People didn’t even think that women can drive professionally while there were women who drove their personal cars even in those days. While initially, we were recruiting many of the women drivers, but over the years market has opened up, like for the first time in Indian history now Unicef has employed a woman driver in Delhi, US Embassy has hired three women drivers in Delhi again, etc.

We have now reached a stage wherein metropolitan cities, most stakeholders agree that women drivers are a possibility and it is a good idea. But the next step is for them to now take the baton and move forward with it,” said Meenu Vadera, founder of Sakha Consulting and Executive Director of Azad Foundation.

Picture credit- Cabo San Lucas Tour

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