As the recent rape and death of a young medical student in India have highlighted, the state of the safety and public health of women in the country are tenuous at best. While there are a minority of women who can afford to have their own cars, usually with chauffeurs to drive them, most Indian women who live in the nation’s capital of New Delhi are subject to the public transportation system of the city, which is comprised of an army of rickshaws, taxis, buses, and trains, none of which can protect them from the harassment from or assaults by disrespectful men.
However, a local non-profit called Sakha Consulting Wing is trying to counter this particular hardship that Indian women face by creating a taxi service that is completely catered to and serviced by women called Cabs for Women by Women. The program has existed since before the December rape but following the event, the service’s business has greatly increased as more women fear for their safety in public.
“Women who used other cab services are also turning to us,” driver Shanti Sharma tells Rhitu Chatterjee of PRI’s The World.
Composed of eight women drivers and seven taxis, the service acts not only as protection for its customers but as empowerment for its drivers.
“Ever since I started doing this job, I feel like I’ve reached my destination. I don’t want to change jobs anymore,” says Shanti.
Well-paid, this is the first time that Shanti, a single parent, has enough regular income to support her three children, and she is proud of that.
Life for female cabbies in New Delhi is still not a walk in the park though. Ridiculously outnumbered by male counterparts and mostly male drivers on the road in general, Shanti has experienced harassment while doing her job in the form of feeling alienated by other cab drivers in the city and having strangers dangerously cut her off and honk at her.
According to Shanti, “The only way to change the attitude of the men…is to have more women driving.”
While this is not untrue, the harassment of Indian women throughout the country is a systemic issue that will take broad strokes against the patriarchy, so firmly entrenched in much of Indian society, to end. This is the situation that women face not only in India but in much of the world today.
As the 2015 deadline to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals looms closer, with less than 1000 days to go, notes United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the African Union Summit, one can only hope that the goal of achieving global gender equality will one day be met.
As they say: the sooner, the better.
– Nina Narang