Indian women are confined to the home – because their cities designed for men

Traffic in Delhi. Image: Getty.

The inequality between men and women in India is stark, and nowhere more so than on the streets of its cities, which are undeniably the domain of men. Of course, this is partly because there are fewer women in the population. With 940 women per 1,000 men, the nation has a low sex ratio, stemming from families’ preference for male children, as well as poor nutrition and health care for women.

What’s more, just 27 per cent of Indian women participate in the work force, compared with 79 per cent of men. This trend is most obvious in urban areas. Although women in India mostly walk, cycle or use public transport to go to work, they are still much less visible in public spaces than men, because many do not have jobs to travel to at all. This has a significant impact on women’s health, and their opportunities in life.

According to India’s 2011 census, only 17 per cent of all people commuting to work in urban areas are women. Even in India’s large metropolitan cities, such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, the proportion of women commuters never rises above 20 per cent. Overall, there are nearly five men to every one woman who commutes to work.

Staying home

This inequality is also reflected in data about drivers license holders, where men outnumber women by nine to one – compare this to the US, where women outnumber men (albeit by a small amount). Even with its rapidly growing economy, India’s level of vehicle ownership is still very low. There are only 20 cars per 1,000 people in India, compared with more than 400 in most high income countries.

This means that the vast majority of people travel on foot, cycle or take public transport – so 83 per cent of those women who commute to work in Indian cities will take one of these options. In England, only 27 per cent of women travel to work by one of these three modes of transport, and in the US, fewer still.

City of men. Image: Rahul Goel/University of Cambridge/author provided.

According to a travel survey my colleagues and I conducted in Delhi in 2013 – which includes all journeys, and not just those to work – Indian men attain similar levels of physical activity through travel as those in the Netherlands, where cycling is very popular (though in Delhi its mostly from walking). Meanwhile, women are only half as active.

Given the evidence, it’s clear that this is not because women travel more by car – it’s because many women do not travel in the city at all. Our study found that only 20 per cent of all the trips in Delhi are made by women, and only 25 per cent in Bengaluru city. With lower levels of physical activity, women are exposed to higher risk of heart disease, breast cancer and depression.

Safer streets

What’s more, over a third of women who work in Indian cities do so from home. Confined to the home, women are socially excluded, which means they lose out on the benefits that often come from developing a social network, such as emotional or financial support, access to opportunities, or participation in the social or political life of the community. For women to willingly participate in activities outside home, streets, neighbourhoods and transport infrastructure must be designed to be sensitive to the needs of women.

Getting out and about. Image: Luisen Rodrigo/Flickr/creative commons.

The safety of women in public spaces should not solely depend on stricter laws on violence against women, or better law enforcement – although this has a role to play. Women’s right to move through public spaces without fear can also be safeguarded through the built environment, using principles such as “eyes on the street” – according to which people feel safer in open, attractive streets with lots of other people around, while lonely streets instil fear.


Making streets safer for women would also help make public transport more accessible, as bus or train journeys typically involve walking at both ends. Stops and stations should be located in busy areas, and should be well lit at night. A plethora of other measures – such as training for transport staff and more women employees – are also needed to make journeys by public transport safer for women, as harassment on buses and trains remains a major social issue (and not just in India).

With the presence of street hawkers, high population density, narrow streets and a large number of people walking and cycling, Indian cities do have some of the liveliest neighbourhoods in the world, where women can feel safe. But these neighbourhoods often exist in isolation, as cities grow in size. The challenge is to ensure safety by design at a much larger scale.

The Conversation

Rahul Goel, Research Associate, University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.