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Free Public Transport: Why I Believe It’s Important To Place Empowerment Above Entitlement

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Since June 3, when the Arvind Kejriwal led Delhi government announced that it would roll out a plan to make all public transport in the city free for all women, which include the Delhi Metro, Delhi Transport Corporation buses and cluster buses, the nation has seen an avalanche of reactions targeting the move. It has been termed populist, unreasonable and discriminatory in nature. The centre has also reportedly opposed the idea citing it as not feasible. The Delhi government announced the plan in order to enhance the safety and security of women in public transport, which is being annulled by many vehemently. The main points of disagreements may be summarized as:

1) In order to facilitate movement for women, this move has been seen as discriminatory against men and many have deemed it degrading to women as well;

2) There is no relation between safety and financial subsidy;

3) This move will burden the government financially.

The proponents of the first point are of the opinion that the government should give subsidies to the economically disadvantaged, not only to women. This is not equality but blatant populism in an attempt to attract votes. However, it is an acknowledged fact that the female labour force participation in India is at an all time low. The female labour force participation has had a decadal fall from 36.7% in 2005 to 26% in 2018, with 95% (195 million) women employed in the unorganised sector or in unpaid work.

We must understand the gravity of the situation and its effects on India’s GDP, and therefore deploy all possible means to facilitate its growth. Maybe if public transport is made free, we could see a rise in women labour force in Delhi. In a country where there is a gradual decline in women labour force, it is only imperative that special favours will be given to increase women labour force only.

Various surveys have also shown that generally women tend to work in close proximity to their home, due to various factors combining. It has been shown that they compromise on their choice of career just due to the distance of their office from home. We can hope that allotment of free public transportation will contribute to more women joining the labour market, irrespective of the distance.

Many people (including women) are of the opinion that this move undermines their ability to buy their own tickets, it is as if what is being insinuated is that women are financially incapable compared to men. However objectionable this sounds to us – the privileged, middle class section of society sitting in air-conditioned rooms and waging social media activism – this is the hard reality.

In 2017, UN Women launched a one-month campaign branding four trains of the Delhi Metro with messaging on women’s economic empowerment. (Photo: Yashas Chandra for UN Women via Flickr)

Women really are an economically backward section. The innocuous gender pay gap reports states that clearly. According to the latest Monster Salary Index Survey, women in India earn 19% less than men, where men earned ₹46.19 more than women in one hour. Where there is such a stark gender pay gap, many women cannot afford to pay for their transportation in comparison to their male counterparts. Thus, the women who are saying that they must be considered as equals are those who can afford to pay their fare. This has nothing to do with dignity. Opening up avenues for the disenfranchised to travel is the least that can be done.

It is saddening that the neo-liberal education has made us lose not only the meaning of what the public means but also that of equality. The idea of publicness of not just public transport but health and education as well. Free education, free healthcare and free transportation is our right and it has to occupy centre stage. The social reality is completely different from armchair activism, and to change that reality one day this step is a welcome foot forward.

Some people are saying that there is no correlation between subsidized transport and security for women. They are saying that installation of CCTV cameras or deploying more security personnel would have been more effective to achieve this goal. Maybe we are assuming a different sense of the security altogether. Security does not always mean physical security – the masculine idea of a male security personnel saving citizens’ lives. Besides this, there is something called social security as well.

If more and more people acquire these public spaces, invariably there will be an increased sense of safety and security among women. The notion of gendered spaces must be dismantled, with more and more women coming out and acquiring the public space. If public transport is being made free for women, the student returning at night from tuition classes, the employee returning from office, or the one going for her night duty will no longer need to pay extra for personal transport and will avail the public alternatives freely. This move by the Delhi government may be instrumental in instilling this sense of social security in a city which is notorious for women feeling unsafe.

The last argument about the economic burden on Delhi Metro really holds no ground. Atishi, an AAP party member has already said, “The ticket revenue lost by Delhi metro will be reimbursed fully by the Delhi government. The DMRC will not suffer at all because of this.” Arguments that are still concerned about the burden of this huge subsidy on the government lack basic human sensitivity.

In a country where insurmountable amounts were spent by the political parties in the recently concluded parliamentary elections, where ₹300 crore were spent to erect the statue of a late politician, where political personalities spent insane amounts for their publicity in hoardings and posters, no one raised their voices, no one asked for the accountability of the government. If money can be spent on political agendas, it should be spent on social agendas as well. The development of a country cannot be calculated only by its GDP, human resource development must be taken into account too.

Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia speaks to a woman in a bus about the Delhi government scheme to make travel free for women in public buses and metro. (Photo by Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Lastly, above all these arguments, there is a space for social justice too. In a country where parents still feel the education of their girl child is a waste of money, even if a single girl can avail her education through this free mode of transportation, India will gain a precious human resource. Even if only one woman can gain her free mobility, we will head a step towards a positive direction. Let us keep our patriarchal sense of entitlement aside, and strive for redemption against ages of deprivation on account of gender.

It is 2019, economics cannot be directed only by the sense of profit. It is high time the concept of ‘welfare’ is incorporated into it. A welfare state takes its citizens along on the way to sustainable development. India must not override the sense of justice and welfare with mere numbers.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Priyanka Parashar for Mint via Getty Images.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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