How can Indian roads be made more accessible for women? - Hindustan Times
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How can Indian roads be made more accessible for women?

ByHindustan Times
May 08, 2023 10:46 AM IST

This article is authored by Karina Bhasin, COO of Even Cargo, an all-woman delivery platform.

Velocipede, a term used for bicycles back in the 19th century was an object of social transformation. When women were restricted to their houses, carriages or public places under supervision, bicycles paved the way for women to assert their space and freedom for generations ahead. Women in the past as well as in recent times have used bicycles as a form of resistance where they can travel without fear and reclaim the machine and public space for themselves. While there are key personalities, events and literature that assert women’s right to move in the public sphere, social realities in India differ.

Women trying to catch a bus during rainfall. PREMIUM
Women trying to catch a bus during rainfall.

Women rely on unregulated, unsafe forms of transportation or depend on their male counterparts to commute from one place to another. This ultimately affects their access to various socio-economic opportunities since women typically settle for lower-paid jobs closer to their homes. This is reflected in the distance they travel for work. In Bengaluru, for instance, the average daily commute for women is just over a mile, while men travel twice as far for their jobs. Similarly, in Delhi, 75% of women work within a three-mile radius of home, whereas 75% of men work within eight miles.

First and last mile transport remain a need of the hour especially due to its untapped potential to accelerate socio-economic opportunities for women in the country. Studies have shown how road improvements alone can be a stepping stone for women by opening market opportunities and increasing female employment in non-farm sectors. According to a United Nations report, improvement in transport infrastructure can decrease the amount of time they spend on domestic work and increase access to markets, schools and services with cascading effects on women’s health, productivity, education and economic outcomes A Bihar government scheme that offered bicycles to secondary school girls ultimately reduced the gender gap in age-appropriate secondary school enrollment by 40%. All these shreds of evidence suggest that ways to bring women on roads will ensure empowerment and can also normalise the presence of women in non-traditional sectors like logistics and transport.

One of the most crucial interventions to ensure visible presence of women on Indian roads comes from understanding how women travel. Women make shorter and more frequent trips that involve more stops to run errands, shop or pick up children and so forth. They use feeder roads to undertake various activities through intermediate transport facilities like bicycles, rickshaws and buses.

Improving Intermediate Public Transport (IPT) can help women access markets, schools and health facilities. Gender-responsive public transport services and routes play a vital role to help women travel more efficiently. This may include affordable transport costs during off-peak hours and an increase in the frequency and timeliness of buses and public taxis. Personal safety and security risks that women face on roads can be tackled by not just installing well-lit transit stops, surveillance cameras and washrooms but through increased women's participation. All-women commute facilities where there are female drivers, bus marshals along with women police booths have also shown more presence of women in public transport.

Affordability is another factor that affects how women travel. Women often make multiple short-distance trips which creates a cost burden. In Delhi alone, the first and last mile constitute 47% of the travel costs which makes women choose unsafe, unreliable forms of transport or resort to walking long distances. Concessions and subsidies on public transport or provisions of an integrated fare can be useful to cut added costs that women pay to travel. Incentives like free bus facilities provided by the governments of Delhi and Tamil Nadu have helped women to engage in a range of activities that have improved their wellbeing. Further, a fair consideration of gender-centric design thinking addresses concerns that women face in terms of public infrastructure or transport facilities and maximise women's participation. Affordable, Low-speed EVs for instance, can enable more women to travel beyond their usual radius without making higher investments. Considering the various challenges that women face in acquiring driver’s licences, the low-speed EVs offer the option for women to drive a vehicle without a licence.

Vehicle ownership is a significant factor that provides women with avenues to utilise their skills, time and effort. In a country where women still depend on their husbands, brothers or fathers for daily commute, a vehicle symbolises personal autonomy and financial security. Women can drive to work, undertake various trips on time and use driving as a skill to participate in unconventional sectors like logistics and transport. While vehicles open up various opportunities for women, financial barriers restrict women to own one. Most women own jewelry as an asset which eases the chances of financial institutions to lend loans to them with no CIBIL score. However, these are provided at a higher interest rate and with collateral. Women with relatively less income and no collateral resort to informal money lending bodies that are often extortive. There is a need to have government loans under various schemes that can help women acquire personal vehicles. Further, the procurement of driving licenses for women can be eased as learning licenses are costly and have limited slots available for prospective drivers.

Gender sensitisation and capacity building can help excluded groups like women to become key agents and beneficiaries in the Indian public transport system. There is a need to emphasise women's participation in grassroots decisions and employment opportunities. Gender quotas in recruitment of various departments including road maintenance can have women as active stakeholders undertaking necessary consultations and decisions. Bringing women into logistics and transport has a dual role to play; the increased presence of women on roads as dispatch riders or commercial drivers and the resultant livelihood opportunities can help women become a significant part of the Indian workforce. Roads are an instrument of change where women can step forward for a future that is more inclusive and diverse. Today Laxmi Jadhav, India’s first woman BEST bus driver in Mumbai represents millions of women who can be on Indian roads untrammeled and truly, without fear.

This article is authored by Karina Bhasin, COO of Even Cargo, an all-woman delivery platform.

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