For female DU students, it’s safety before choice of college: Study
In July, speaking at the release of a report on child marriage in India, Sunita Reddy, professor at JNU’s Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health had pointed out, that while educating girls can lower the risk of child marriages, often parents are reluctant to educate their daughters and prefer to have them married off at an early age because they fear that “some oonch-neech would happen to the girl. This oonch-neech can be the girl getting molested, or raped or even falling in love and wanting to marry someone of her choice.”
A recent study by development economist Girija Borker, published on November 3, would suggest that the hurdle of unsafe public spaces and the fear of harassment in the path of women’s education exist not just in rural areas, as commonly perceived, but even in the national capital.
Borker conducted a study in and gathered data from 40 Delhi University colleges to measure “the extent to which perceived risk of street harassment can help explain women’s college choices in Delhi.”
Delhi has the unsavoury moniker of being the “rape capital” of the country. According to the Crime in India 2015 report released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Delhi showed the highest crime rate in rapes (reported cases of crime against 1,00,000 women) at 23.7, as compared to the national average of 5.7.
In Borker’s sample, “89% of college-going female students said they had faced some form of harassment while travelling in Delhi.” The report goes on to record the kind of precaution women students take to avoid this harassment. While “72% of female students report avoiding an unsafe area, 67% avoid going out after dark.”
The fear of harassment, Borker found, also played a role in the female students’ choice of institution. She combined data collected from the University of Delhi, with route mapping from Google Maps, and mobile app safety data, to study the trade-offs women face between college quality and travel safety, relative to men. Borker found that women are “willing to attend a college that is 25 percentage points lower in the quality distribution for a route that is perceived to be one standard division (SD) safer.”
Borker used selectivity in admissions as an indicator of college quality, measured by a college’s cutoff score. Men, in her sample size, were only willing to attend a college that is five percentage points lower in the quality distribution for a route that is one SD safer.
Borker analysed district-wise rape data available with the NCRB to estimate that “one additional SD of route safety while walking is equivalent to a 3.1% decrease in the rapes reported annually.”
She refers to various previous studies to suggest that choosing a worse-ranked college may have long-term consequences “since college quality affects a student’s academic training, network of peers, access to labour opportunities, and lifetime earnings.”
From entry decisions to actual working on the job, the threat of sexual harassment is a debilitating barrier, says Dr Kaustav Banerjee, Centre for the Study of Discrimination and Exclusion, Jawaharlal Nehru University. “Early job market studies in mainstream economics, from the 60s, have drawn attention to various dimensions of gender-based discrimination and Borker’s paper is in that lineage,” said Banerjee.
Nalini Gulati, economist at the International Growth Centre, agrees. “Safety is definitely an issue in Delhi. Given the competition, the quality of college will have a direct impact on job prospects,” she says. “Even when a woman is in a job, security concerns may prevent her from travelling long distances or working late, which results in her losing out on growth opportunities,” she adds.
Referring to the World Employment Social Outlook 2017, Borker writes, “the global labour force participation rate for women is 26.7 percentage points lower than the rate for men in 2017, and the largest gender gap in participation rates is faced by women in emerging countries. The results of this paper suggest that street harassment could help explain part of this gender gap.”
Not everyone though, is in agreement of the premise or findings of Borker’s study. “While safety and safe access are definitely considerations when one is looking for an educational institution, I don’t think anyone will forego a possible admission in any DU college for that reason, simply because there is such a scarcity of seats,” says Dr Ranjana Kumari, director, Centre for Social Research.
The choice, adds Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All-India Progressive Women’s Association, is often not the women’s. “The concern for safety is often used as an excuse by families to restrict a woman’s choice and mobility. We often find that even good students are stopped by their families from attending extra-curricular activities or research projects if it involves staying out late.”
Meanwhile, the concern for safety is a double burden, writes Borker. While on the one hand, it may impact or restrict women’s career advancement, it results in their spending more than men on the commute. “Women are also willing to travel by a route that costs ₹20,000 more per year as long as it is one SD safer. This is 16 times more than men are willing to spend in terms of travel costs for an additional unit of safety.”