New Delhi introduces free bus travel for women

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As of 29 October 2019, women in New Delhi will be given ‘pink tickets’ entitling them to free travel on all DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) and cluster buses in a bid to improve their safety. Extra precautions will also include 13,000 marshals on buses to ensure welfare of the 850,000 women who regularly take public transport in the city.

India’s capital Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal has called this a ‘historic step’ for women’s safety and employment.

The pink tickets are only required to be purchased once for 10 rupees and thereafter can be used for unlimited bus travel within the city free of cost. Before, bus fares could cost between 5 rupees and 25 rupees for a bus with air conditioning. The scheme is said to be of the greatest benefit to women earning between 10,000 and 15,000 rupees, whilst women who can afford bus fares are free to opt out of the scheme. This will help subsidise the fares which is said to be costing the government Rs 700-800 crore (around USD 100 million).

The safety of women in the city has been scrutinised since the 2012 gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh on a public bus, which sparked major protests urging the government to provide security measures for women on public transport. Rates of gender-based violence are high in India. An estimated 30% of women between the ages of 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence since the age of 15. New Delhi has a repuation for being particularly unsafe, with a reported 80% of women in the city having experienced some form of sexual harassment.

Unfortunately, the confined conditions on public transport facilitate sexual harassment because assaults can go unnoticed and women may feel too ashamed to bring attention to it. Fear of harassment and assault in public has led to many women and girls dropping out of education or employment, which deepens women’s economic vulnerability and acts as a barrier to gender equality.

Female participation in the Indian workforce is amongst the lowest in the world, with less than 30% of working-age women in paid employment. This scheme will have major implications for getting women back into employment and education as well as improving the country’s economic growth.

Safe transportation constitutes a crucial area for societal development as without it, large swathes of society are excluded from public life. Policies such as this are important for tackling violence against women. More importantly, however, cultural attitudes towards women and sexual assault in society must also be dealt with if true gender equality is to be achieved in India and elsewhere.

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