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Arvind Kejriwal at Cuncolim Goa, December 20, 2016.
Joegoauk Goa / Flickr
Girls & Women

This Indian Minister Wants to Make Public Transportation Free for Women


Why Global Citizens Should Care 
Ensuring public safety is key to fighting gender discrimination and ending poverty. When women and girls are afraid to go to work or school because they might be the target of harassment or violence, they can’t reach their full potentials. You can join us and take action on this issue here.

One Indian state is making an effort to protect women on public transportation. 

On Monday, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that in an attempt to encourage more women to use public transportation, the government wants to make riding on metro trains and public buses free for all women. The program would cost the state Rs 7 billion (USD $101 million) this year and still has to be approved by the federal government. Residents and experts are skeptical of the proposal.

“Public transport is considered the safest for women and keeping that in mind, the government had decided that … all buses and the metro will be made free for women,” Kejriwal told reporters Monday, according to the New York Post. 

When women avoid public transportation, it harms the economy by limiting their financial independence, ability to support their families, and employment opportunities, author and social scientist Deepa Narayan told Global Citizen via email.

Metro use has been down by 300,000 rides per day ever since the metro raised its fares in 2017. Only 33% of the riders on Delhi Metro are women, according to Kejriwal. For many, safety is a bigger concern than price.

Read More: India's First Women-Run Train Station Is Shattering Stereotypes

“Policymakers have been totally blind to the economic costs of lack of women’s safety on the economy, their lower labor force participation. As women avoid work, that involves travel through routes and transportation that they perceive as unsafe,” Narayan said. 

India’s rampant gender-based discrimination has made the country the world’s most dangerous for women, according to a 2018 poll. In a 2009 Delhi survey, 95% of women said their mobility was limited by fear of harassment in public places.

The new metro plan doesn’t address safety directly. But on Monday, Kejriwal said that his government is installing 70,000 cameras this week and 150,000 more soon to improve public safety.  

“CCTV cameras can act as a deterrent, but get social scientists and psychologists involved to design behavioral change messages for male and female metro riders,” Narayan said.

Kejriwal’s announcement has gained some support but is under criticism by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. They called the plan a “populist gimmick” to win votes for next year’s legislative poll, a sentiment that residents echoed on Twitter.

While some experts say that the new metro fare will help low-income women, commuters refuse to accept free rides. 

Eliminating train and bus fares are not the solution for getting low-income women to take public transportation, according to Narayan.

“If you want poor women to take the metro, educate them on how to use the metro, take the fear out of it,” she suggested. 

The government needs to invest in the protection of women against sexual violence, according to Narayan. Panic buttons that women can use to alert authorities when they’re at risk could be more beneficial than free rides, she argued. 

“Money would be better spent on educating men in local languages on civil behavior in metros, though short videos and encouraging men to interrupt harassment rather than be silent observers,” Narayan said.