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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

We need to discuss women’s safety in public transport

It is an issue of concern that women’s work participation in the country is going down. Three out of four women are not in the workforce today and the gender pay gap is 34%.

opinion Updated: Jun 06, 2019 08:02 IST
Kalpana Viswanath
Kalpana Viswanath
The recently held general elections saw 62 women get elected, which still represents 14% of the total number of candidates. India ranks quite low on women’s representation in the Parliament; over 50 countries have more than 30% elected women representatives.
The recently held general elections saw 62 women get elected, which still represents 14% of the total number of candidates. India ranks quite low on women’s representation in the Parliament; over 50 countries have more than 30% elected women representatives.(HT Photo)
         

This week, the media and social media have been abuzz with the Delhi government’s recent announcement about making public transport free for women. It has evoked strong reactions, with some people feeling that such a move will not change the reality about women’s safety, and others who are hopeful that it will help women’s mobility. Whichever way the wind may blow, one of the key issues it has brought to the forefront is women’s participation in the city, in public life and public spaces as well as work participation.

It is an issue of concern that women’s work participation in the country is going down. Three out of four women are not in the workforce today and the gender pay gap is 34%. It is this fact of women’s employment and participation in the economy and social life that is worrying.

The recently held general elections saw 62 women get elected, which still represents 14% of the total number of candidates. India ranks quite low on women’s representation in the Parliament; over 50 countries have more than 30% elected women representatives. On the recently released SDG Gender Index—a new world ranking for gender equality—India ranks 95 among 129 countries. The index assesses a number of parameters, including poverty, health, education, literacy, political representation and equality at the workplace.

It is imperative to look for innovative ways of addressing this gap. The debate this week on the free public transport has highlighted some of these issues. The lack of safety and socio-cultural norms have served to restrict women’s opportunities for education, work and leisure. Further, women are still seen as primary caregivers and, therefore, they carry the burden of work inside the home and outside the home.

All women do not experience the city in the same way. Those of us who drive or use a cab on a regular basis are quite unaware of the realities of public transport, its quality, cost and efficiency. Over the past few days many women from low-income backgrounds have remarked on how free or subsidised travel could enhance their economic opportunities.

Public transport is a public good and in the context of increasing congestion and pollution, it is also a solution that can make our cities more sustainable. When the Delhi Metro fares went up in 2017, the ridership reduced by more than 3 lakh. City and transport authorities should consider subsidy for all Metro riders so that it is accessible to more people.

In Gurugram, the Rapid Metro runs half occupied through the day. So, it makes sense to lower costs and encourage more people to use it, including domestic and informal workers who have to often walk great distances.

In addition to affordable and reliable public transport, waiting areas, such as accessible bus stops, auto stands, and areas outside Metro stations need to be well lit with well-organised last-mile transit options around bus stops and Metro stations.

The need for safe and efficient first and last-mile connectivity is critical. Women and girls may reach Metro stations and bus stops safely, but unless they can reach their destination safely as well, their mobility will continue to be restricted.

The renewed focus on women’s access to the public space and their presence in the public sphere is welcome. There is a need for bold and innovative thinking to reduce the gender gap in all aspects of social, economic and political life.

(The writer is co-founder and CEO of Safetipin, the author works on issues of women’s safety and rights in cities)

First Published: Jun 06, 2019 01:21 IST