All-Female Cab Company Taking Back The Streets For Indian Women & Their Safety

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In a country which has seen its fair share of horrible news hit the international media since the rape of a girl on a Delhi bus in 2012, India is going through many changes, and one of the major changes was its new Prime Minister Narendra Modi who once elected, vowed he would tackle the ongoing issue of violence toward women.

New legislation is only one aspect of how women can be better protected, because it starts with attitudes about equality being fostered at home, at an early age. On the other hand, there is a growing trend of women being empowered to band together and find ways to stand up for themselves. Entrepreneurship is on the rise because of this new found confidence that is spreading amongst Indian woman. One of the most notable examples is the Gulab Gang, or the Pink Sari Gang, started by Northern Indian village woman Sampat Pal Devi in 2006.

They are a group of women who wear pink saris, and who are the local advocates for women who are being oppressed by men or authorities. They step in an act as lawyers, body guards, protectors and even represent women in court for free. Today they have tens of thousands of women part of the movement, and they are a powerful symbol of hope for women.

Another great example of entrepreneurship on the back of adversity is the Sakha Consulting Wings all-female cab company based out of New Delhi. They exist to ensure the rape case of 2012 is not repeated, and that women have a safe mode of transport around the city.

The company formed in 2008, and their goal is to “reclaim the streets” as a safe place for Indian women. Worldcrunch reports over 90% of women in New Delhi say they don’t feel safe in their own city.

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“Driving as a profession in India was, until now, unheard of for women to be doing. So you know we were determined to break the glass ceiling. We will break the gender stereotype and put women behind steering wheels. Today we have a demand that is far greater than the supply we’re able to provide,” says chief operator Nayantara Janardhan.

“Imagine you were in a bus driven by a woman or a car being driven by a woman. Or if you are in any kind of transport where the conductor is a woman, why would you, as a woman, feel unsafe? It’s going to make the city a more inclusive space for women who are normally the most vulnerable part of society.”

“In 90% of the cases these girls are the principal breadwinners of the families once they start earning here,” says Sakha. “They become decision makers in the family. Sometimes this works well, but sometimes there is resistance. In some ways it’s good because these are women who will not allow violence in their lives. They will not allow their family to pay a dowry to get them married. They have successfully negotiated their space very successfully.”

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The company was started by women (pictured above with UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Bollywood actor and female empowerment advocate Amir Khan), and is 100% run by women, another empowering aspect of Sakha, which is currently in talks with Delhi’s Transport Cooperation, the largest bus operator in the city, to integrate more women into their workplace.
The women are taught to drive through a local NGO called the Azad Foundation, which works with disadvantaged women. For most of us who live in the Western world, learning to drive is a normal part of growing up. In India, the ability to drive and earn money is the difference between oppression and freedom.

A lot of the women who have come through the Azad Foundation to work for Sakha Cabs are either illiterate, or have been married off at a young age. Having their own income means younger women don’t have to rely on the corrupt dowry system to get married, which has often been the cause for many crimes against women such as acid attacks.

The Azad Foundation teaches the young women English and communication skills, and also about gender and their legal rights.

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Meenu Vadera, executive director of Azad, came up with the idea for the driving school. She says it is incredible how much the course has built the women’s confidence. “Our mandate is to work with underprivileged women to help them make the transition from ‘I cannot’ to ‘I can’,” she told the Guardian in 2010.

“The transformation during the course is so significant. You can see it in their body language, in their speech, their ability to negotiate. I think it’s partly stepping into a very different world. Learning to drive is like learning to swim or ride a bicycle: once you have got over the initial hesitation, it makes you feel powerful.”

While some of the women still face opposition from families who don’t want them to work outside the home, attitudes are slowly changing the more women are empowered to show this is not an act of defiance of their culture, it is an act of empowerment and equality.

Aside from basic language skills, the girls are taught vehicle maintenance, they get help to apply for a driver’s licence and taxi license and learn the fundamentals of running a business.

If these types of burgeoning entrepreneurial ideas are what we are going to see more of in the future, here’s hoping women can take back more than just their God-given right to safety on the streets, but also their rightful and equal place in society alongside men, not under them.

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