Women in urban India turn down better employment opportunities further away from home in favour of lower-paid local opportunities as the public transport system is often unreliable or unaffordable, according to a 2017 study by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), a global non-profit that designs and implements high quality transport systems and offers policy solutions.
Safe, comfortable, convenient and affordable transport can play an important role in not only helping meet women’s practical needs such as access to schools and markets but also in contributing to their strategic empowerment by facilitating access to social and economic opportunities, the study said.
No more than 14 per cent of trips made by employed urban women are by sustainable modes like public transport, walking and cycling. “In the coming decade, cities will need to make a concerted effort to improve women and girls’ experience of sustainable modes of transport to achieve a target of 40 per cent of all trips,” said the ITDP study.
Fewer women are working, transport is an issue
State-level female labour force participation rates range from 63 per cent in Himachal Pradesh to 9 per cent in Bihar, according to this 2015 report by McKinsey Global Institute, a business and economic research institute.
Women are more affected than men when access to employment, education or basic services are located far away from their residences, this 2016 study by the FIA Foundation, a philanthropic organisation, found.
Women are more dependent on public transport than men, especially when they are from lower-income groups, according to the ITDP report.
Across cities, on average, 37 per cent of women, compared to 27 per cent of men, walk to work and 30 per cent of women as compared to 25 per cent of men use public transport, IndiaSpend reported on January 8, 2016.
Since women are overrepresented as informal workers, their destinations may not be concentrated in the central business district or in one or two main areas, according to this 2007 paper on gender and urban transport by GIZ, a German transport policy advisory.
Women combine multiple destinations within one trip
“Women’s travel also gets characterised by trip chaining,” said the ITDP study, explaining the term as “combining multiple destinations within one trip”.
Women make shorter and more trips that often require them to change, divert, and break their journeys–to pick up children, run errands, shop or take on other family obligations.
This often makes it costlier for women to get around, since they may have to pay numerous single fare tickets during such a chained trip, according to the report by FIA Foundation.
For majority women, transport is part of a daily struggle to manage home and work commitments, which significantly impacts their quality of life, the ITDP report said.
“In a developing country like India, women often rely on some form of public transport as their only choice of motorised transport. It is therefore important that they perceive public transport as being safe and secure.”
High underreporting of violence against women in public spaces
Women and girls fear using public transport because of violence and the fear of violence, according to the ITDP report.
Over 90 per cent women had faced some form of sexual harassment, 51 per cent women faced harassment inside public transport, and another 42 per cent while waiting for public transport in a year, according to this 2010 study conducted in Delhi by Jagori, a women’s resource centre, in partnership with UN Women and Department of Women and Child Development.
There is also high underreporting of violence against women in public spaces and of sexual harassment in public transport as it takes place during a journey, making it difficult to report the offence.
Public transport authorities do not record incidents of harassment separately from other complaints in a sustained manner. The process of reporting harassment and its redressal must be clearly communicated along with a mechanism to track progress of reported incidents, said the ITDP study.
With multiple helpline numbers and poor advertising campaigns, women are unaware of the services, underscoring the need for an universal helpline number.
Urban transport investment gender blind
Violence against women and girls in public space impedes women empowerment by restricting their mobility and is recognised as women rights violation by the ministry of women and child development.
The central government set up the Nirbhaya Fund with an initial corpus of Rs 10 billion to tackle such issues–ensure women security and safety. However, less than 30 per cent of the fund has been utilised, the Business Standard reported on February 11, 2018.
While momentum exists at different levels of government in addressing women’s safety in public transport, transport investments have been gender-blind with limited understanding of the inter-relationships between gender and transport inequities, according to the ITDP study.
Sustainable urban development is elusive without integrating women and girls’ safety, comfort, convenience and affordability in urban transport, said the study.
Reprinted with permission from IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, public-interest journalism non-profit organisation
(Angel Mohan, a master in economics from Mumbai University, is an intern with IndiaSpend.)