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3-min read

#WomenAtWork: Is the Cost of Safety a Luxury Only Few Women Can Afford?

The trouble for women in the unorganised sector does not end at commuting. These workplaces are not sensitised to the needs of women, and there is an absence of a redressal mechanism for sexual harassment.

Sana Fazili | News18.com

Updated:March 8, 2019, 8:46 PM IST
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#WomenAtWork: Is the Cost of Safety a Luxury Only Few Women Can Afford?
The trouble for women in the unorganised sector does not end at commuting. These workplaces are not sensitised to the needs of women, and there is an absence of a redressal mechanism for sexual harassment.
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New Delhi: It is past 10pm and not many women can be seen out on the roads. But Bimla has just finished her work, at a girls’ hostel in South Delhi, and is rushing back home. Walking past speeding cars and buses, she clutches her bag tightly and remains alert. It usually takes her an hour to reach home.

The number of women on streets tends to go down as soon as the sun sets and darkness creeps in. It may be because of curfews at hostels, strict rules of families or even a precautionary measure on their own part to avoid being ‘vulnerable’ in any situation. However, the safety of women comes at a cost.

While women employed in the organised sector are entitled to certain safety measures, the same is not true for those who work in the unorganised sector, and who nearly constitute one-third of the workforce. There is no safety system in place for women like Bimla.

Bimla takes an e-rickshaw for over a kilometre, after which she takes a 'shared ride' in an auto-rickshaw, alongside strangers, mostly men. The road is desolate and dimly lit. “Initially I used to be anxious while travelling alone at night. But I am used to it now," she says, adding that it is very rare to find a woman co-passenger late in the night.

Though she hasn’t faced any trouble so far, the fear always looms. “There are all kinds of people around. You never know what will happen,” Bimla says. With no direct bus service between her workplace and home, nor metro connectivity, Bimla relies on shared rides.

“The lack of safe public transport for women has been repeatedly been flagged as an issue, but very little is being done. Women need safe public transport with last-mile connectivity,” says gender rights activist Kavita Krishnan.

Bimla works to meet the household expenses, her children’s education and medical treatment for her husband, who has been unwell for some time.

In one of the many bizarre statements given by politicians about women’s safety, Kirron Kher had said a few years ago that women should avoid taking 'shared rides' with men. She had said this after a woman was raped in an auto-rickshaw in Chandigarh by her fellow passengers.

But with a salary of few thousand rupees per month and the responsibility of running a household, the women in the unorganised sector do not have the luxury of taking an entire taxi or an auto-rickshaw to themselves.

In contrast to Bimla’s story is Amrita. She works as a commis chef in a hotel in Delhi’s aerocity. After 8pm, she can avail of a drop-home facility, along with a security guard, from the hotel. “The guard doesn’t leave until I enter the house,” she says.

On some days, Amrita takes her own car to work. By the time she gets free, it is 2am and she drives back home alone. “My parents get worried when I come back in the night alone,” she says, adding, “There have been times when my parents come to my hotel so that I am not alone on my way back to home."

The trouble for women in the unorganised sector does not end at commuting. These workplaces are not sensitised to the needs of women, and there is an absence of a redressal mechanism for sexual harassment. “Women working in factories, as sanitation workers or in any other unorganised sector find it difficult to raise their issues because they aren’t allowed to unionise,” says Krishnan.

There have been reports of garment factories in Tamil Nadu using sexual harassment as a tool to ‘discipline’ the woman workforce. “The women in these places aren’t allowed to use mobile phones or talk to male co-workers. Such moral policing is an attempt to prevent them from building solidarities to demand better working conditions,” says Krishnan.

According to a report by International Labour Organisation, the participation of women in trade unions remains negligible, thus their issues remain far from being resolved.

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