BEST, A LIFELINE FOR WOMEN COMMUTERS
Women’s rights activists remind the civic chief how transport impacts female commuters, their access to facilities, opportunities and their very existence.
Dear Mr Ajoy Mehta,
As a women’s organisation, we would like to add our point of view to the ongoing debate around BEST started by Kiran Nagarkar, the answers/responses provided by you and various readers and experts.
BEST cannot and should not be seen in isolation as a stand-alone enterprise which makes profit or loss. The role of BEST has to take into account society in its holistic sense, which includes primarily, the vulnerable – women, children, the sick and elderly people, differentlyabled persons, the economic development of society as a whole, public safety, environmental standards, etc.
It is of paramount importance to understand the gendered nature of transport system and how it impacts women commuters, their access to facilities and opportunities and their very existence.
The World Bank has acknowledged that women depend much more on public transport than men. It has been documented by the United Nations and we also know from general experience that women make far more and complex trips than men, who mainly travel to work. Women travel for work but also to hospitals or doctors, to pay bills, to take children to school, to markets, to socialise and for other reasons. On the whole, they are said to make 30 per cent more ‘non-work’ trips than men, and many a times with family members – the elderly, the sick, and children.
For women, transport is not just a means of reaching some destination. Transport provides access to various resources and opportunities, such as employment, childcare, education, health, shopping for provisions as well as political processes. There is direct correlation between access to affordable transport infrastructure and services and women’s social, political and economic empowerment.
Despite several struggles, women globally as well as in India, continue to earn much less than men, shoulder many more responsibilities of varied kinds. Studies have shown that women work longer hours than men, doing both paid and unpaid work. If transport is not affordable, if it is beyond the means of working women like say domestic workers or saleswomen, it is more likely that we will have to walk rather than spend on transport. This will only increase women’s work, women’s effort and reduce the little space we have for ourselves.
Apart from that personal safety and the avoidance of harassment are also major concerns for women in relation to accessing and using transport. Mobility has always been an important issue for women. There are several ongoing attempts to curtail women’s mobility. Increase in incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault is one such. Over the years women have been able to assert their right to mobility.
Women in the city of Mumbai have struggled in different ways and in different areas of our lives to come to where we have now. Access to good, safe, affordable public transport like BEST at all hours of the day has been a crucial aspect of our hard-won safety and mobility. We women are determined that we will not allow this to be snatched from us.
— Forum Against Oppression of Women, Mumbai