Why Delhi Government’s move to make bus rides is an empowering move for women.
When Arvind Kejriwal led Aam Aadmi Party came into power in 2015, women’s safety and crimes against women in Delhi was one of the major concerns of voters. Earlier this year, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced the scheme for free bus rides for women across Delhi. Along with this, all buses will be equipped with CCTV cameras and monitored by security marshals. The Aam Aadmi Party is the first government in Delhi to have taken such proactive measures to not only ensure the safety of all women, but also to empower them to be a part of the economic workforce. The participation rate of women in Delhi’s labour force is a mere 11%, compared to the national average of 27%. A major reason behind this abysmally low number is lack of access to affordable and safe public transport. While, the move gathered praise from different corners of the Western media as being revolutionary and progressive, there have been some criticisms that have been levelled at it from our opposition at home. We would like to take an opportunity to go through those arguments and show to you that they do not hold up well under scrutiny.
Why, when we talk about equality, are we being unfair to men and only offering free rides to women?
Yes, we do indeed talk about equality. Equality across gender, religion, caste and class. But has that equality actually been achieved? According to Delhi Metro data, only 33% of the daily commuters are women. Does this number or the rate of women’s participation in workforce in Delhi indicate the achievement of equality in any sense? Gender based discrimination is a historic and systemic reality. To achieve our dream of equality and equity for all women, we need to take drastic measures that empower women and bring them into our larger economy in bigger numbers. Mobility is a big factor in one’s ability to participate in the economy. This move will make it possible for women to access jobs and opportunities that up until now, they were unable to. More women participating in the economy will only help our economy grow, which will consequently benefit not just women, but men too. So, in totality this move is in fact good for both men and women.
The other side of this argument often is, ‘women are making amazing achievements, why then do they need free rides’. This is to imply that since some women have made amazing achievements that means no woman is discriminated against, and all women have equal access to opportunities. The logical fallacy of this argument is apparent as soon as you break it down. We will take this more seriously when women achieving amazing things is not just a small collection of heartening stories, but an everyday reality. This can only be possible with equality of access. And as we have said before, access is more often than not dependent on mobility. This move makes mobility much more easier for all women in Delhi, thus getting them all closer to making those amazing achievements.
The AAP government is always giving freebies. Where will the money for these free rides come from?
The money for these free rides will come from the taxes that the citizens of Delhi pay. And to make this move possible, we have not increased any taxes either. All we have done is honest and transparent governance. Money allocated for public schemes in previous governments which never saw the light of the day has been allocated and monitored judiciously under our administration. A corruption free government is all it has taken for us to make these and many similar progressive moves possible.
Why do senior citizens and students not get these benefits as well?
As is the case with all large-scale projects of this nature, this is the pilot phase of this scheme. Once this has been rolled out and implemented successfully, we will cover all economically vulnerable populations like senior citizens and students under this policy in due time.
Beyond these facile criticisms, what is really important here is to look at this scheme in the right perspective. We need to think of women, who because they cannot afford to take either metro or buses often commute using more unsafe modes of commuting. There have been instances of women jumping off from moving shared rides because they did not feel safe alone with the driver in them. Or of women walking for more than an hour on foot to avail themselves of opportunities that are otherwise out of their reach. In addition, lots of research shows that public transport is much more safer for women, and the women who cannot afford to travel in it feel so too. How can we empower women until they feel safe? Until they are burdened by the emotional and physical exhaustion of feeling constantly unsafe? Until we let them reclaim the space that is rightfully theirs? What we take for granted is an every day terror for them. Through this move, all we have done, as any of us will for any woman who we care about in our lives, is to make women feel safe. Safe enough to go out and lay their claim on a good job and a better life, like the rest of us do.