This New Year, on ‘Man Ki Baat’, the Prime Minister spoke about how women are leading the way and making India proud in every field. However, it is difficult to agree on whether the opportunities and security required to break conventional boundaries are available to most Indian women. It is not new to argue for women empowerment in jobs and education, but it is important to think whether most Indian women have a satisfactory environment to take up higher education or get jobs. The issue of security for women during everyday commute has continuously persisted in India. Even today, women in villages are prevented from pursuing higher education or taking a job owing to unsafe public transport. Secure transportation plays a significant role in everything, from women’s self-esteem to her economic empowerment.
Reuters reported in 2016 that four out of every five women face harassment in Indian cities.
As per the report, many respondents in a survey conducted by Action Aid UK recounted incidents of being chased, harassed or teased. With these issues, women and girls tend to stay at home. For actual female empowerment, women must have access to secure and efficient public transport system. Safe commute will open a wide range of opportunities and resources to women, such as employment, education, access to health care, etc. However, the safety of women’s commute is often neglected. To ensure safer commute for women, the security situation in urban areas need to be audited from the female perspective.
Last year, Tata Institute of Social Sciences in collaboration with Mumbai Railway Development Corporation conducted a survey of female commuters in Mumbai. The survey revealed that 25 percent of women passenger were harassed during commuting. Since over 22 percent of the 75 lakh passengers traveling daily in Mumbai’s suburban locales are women passengers. There are 16 lakh women commuters daily on the Central and Western Railway local trains. Of these 8,58,000 are served by the Central Railway and 7,50,000 by the Western Railway. 25 percent of these women amount to 4 lakh female victims. This number is scary, to say the least. To solve these problems, we must increase the number of police officers at public places. We should also set up high-quality CCTV cameras at railway and bus stations, increase the number of street lights and make the public transport system safer and dependable.
Questions pertaining to women’s safety are not new, after the brutal Nirbhaya case in Delhi in December 2012, the question of women’s safety was widely discussed. However, no results came out of it. Apart from insufficient security forces, there is an inadequate number of women police officers. Less than 13% of Maharashtra’s police officers are female.
Whether women work outside the home or not, transportation safety plays a vital role. According to the World Bank, the female workforce is underutilised in India due to lack of safe commute. Secure public transportation system can enable women to fight against poverty and contribute to the growth of Indian economy. That is why transportation should be considered in the context of gender-specific needs. For a bright future of women, girls and their families we should prioritise safe public transport for them.
The politicians often promise various welfare schemes for appeasing their vote banks, but the security of half the population is still not considered a critical issue. Keeping this in mind, the government must prioritise the rule of law and safe environment for everyone, because development and growth of our nation cannot take place unless every citizen is safe.