The Indian Railways has had women employees in different roles. What is your approach to employing women?
Basic railway operations require sincerity and regularity. It involves sticking to rules every minute of every day. There is no problem with regard to technique or ability when it comes to women. In the 1970s, we employed women as booking clerks and in the 1980s we announced that no distinction would be made on the basis of gender for anyone who cleared the Railway Recruitment Board exams. But, it was specified that jobs involved travel to remote areas and long duty hours. We have not faced any problem so far even though facilities for women are limited.
What are the challenges that the women’s workforce faces at present? The numbers have not gone up in so many years. What could be the reason?
Women employed in these tough jobs are there because they have to support their families. It is not always possible to provide facilities especially for women. Also, they have problems at home. Shifts are of 12 hours and they have to take care of the house and children. Husbands do not always help — financially or with chores. Support infrastructure is poor. At a higher level, women are aware of their rights and are well educated and do not have so many problems. We must also consider the benefits a railways employee gets — housing, pension and health care.
What can be done to get more women into the railways?
Empowerment is crucial. Unions are also playing a big role in helping women. We should have a forum where women are able to express official and personal issues freely. May be social organisations can also help. The railways is the largest government employer and we need to resolve issues and make it more female friendly. One successful initiative has been all-women teams — be it gang men in south central or some stations and reservation centres. All-women teams also help remove the belief that women cannot work without help from a man.