In response to the problem of gender violence in India and the growing awareness around the world via international media, sparked by the horrific gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in 2012, there is one industry that has been ahead of the rest in terms of pushing for change and trying to help protect women.
The taxi cab industry has seen a number of companies specifically address the violence toward women by implementing safety measures and creating services that are only offered to females. This is important because in countries where it is not common for women to be afforded the same kind of equal rights socially and culturally, (although India is a democracy and their constitution has more equal rights measures than the US), public safety is a huge concern and one of the main factors in making them vulnerable to attacks.
Aside from the smaller companies within the country stepping up to change this problem, a couple of major taxi cab companies are recognizing the need to get involved. Uber, arguably the most popular ride share brand in the world right now, and Ola Cabs, the Bangalore-based cab company, are participating the momentum which not only protects and empowers women in India, but also generates employment.
The National Safai Karamcharis Finance & Development Corporation (NSKFDC) have spearheaded an initiative which will see 200 women, who previously made a living via scavenging, now being trained as a certified driver complete with martial arts skills for protection. The NSKFDC are working with Uber and Ola who are hiring the women.
It is a double positive for women in India who now have another option for public transportation, and an opportunity for financial empowerment for the women who did not have it before.
“The self-defense skills taught during the training, will provide self confidence not only to these women, but will also give a sense of security to female passengers, particularly those who have to travel at odd hours,” said Thaawar Chand Gehlot, the Union Minister for Social Justice & Empowerment which distributed course completion certificates, driving licenses and employment letters to the trainees.
“Out of 200 trainees, 192 trainees have already received driving licenses. The said program is of utmost importance keeping in view the increasing incidents of eve-teasing, molestation, rapes, etc,” he continued.
The epidemic of street harassment is often referred to as “eve-teasing” in India, but thanks to the continued coverage of this problem, we are also seeing an epidemic of women rising up and confronting this problem that has been allowed to continue for many many years unchecked.
Uber getting involved in this initiative to help women comes at an interesting time. In 2014 an Uber driver kidnapped and raped a female passenger, and in 2015 he was convicted of his crime and given a life sentence. The victim not only fought against her attacker in India, but also the company who hired him in a US court.
Uber settled with the woman out of court, but they were also banned from operating serviced in Delhi for several months after the attack. It is important they don’t just brush over this incident and try to regain the trust of Indian citizens by being part of a positive initiative such as the one to employ former scavengers.
It is also important to note that figures from the Indian government show there has been a huge increase in rape cases being reported to the police, however the conviction rate has not changed much, meaning there is still work to do.
Because of the questionable history of Uber’s safety record in terms of the number of women being attacked by their drivers, a potential partnership with UN Women to create 1 million jobs globally for women by 2020 was called off as there was a huge outcry over the need for the ride share company to fix their internal problem first.
If this new initiative can help women in India get to a point where they are an empowered member of society and help contribute to an economy that values their participation, we are hopeful Uber, along with Ola and other cab companies, can be part of a much-needed change.
“This initiative by NSKFDC will meet the objective of social & economic empowerment of women by creating job/self employment opportunities for these women who were forced to be Safai Karamcharis,” said Anita Agnihotri, secretary, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment.
It should also be noted that many men in these lower-income communities are also being employed in various roles in this initiative, and both Uber and Ola in 2015 announced they were hiring ex-servicemen as drivers in order to beef up security for passengers and work on alleviating safety concerns.
Although these two companies are in major competition, if it means continually trying to out-do each other and provide the best services that ensure the safety and well being of women and men in the community, then we are on the right track.