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Contributing to gender justice through creating safe and equal public transportation for women and girls

The driver behind

Creating safe and equal not “places” but “spaces” for women and girls means women and girls have free and equitable access to public spaces. It also implies that women and girls should be able to determine when and which public place they would want to be in instead of societal norms, practices and mindsets deciding it for them.

According to a survey conducted by Thomson Reuters Foundation and Action Aid, UK nearly four out of five women in India have faced sexual harassment in public places ranging from staring, insults and wolf-whistling to being followed, groped or even raped. The fatal gang-rape of a woman on a Delhi bus in December 2012 jolted many in the world’s second-most populous country out of apathy.

These facts and incidents clearly indicate that there are barriers women face every day in making decisions to exercise their choice and right to navigate in public places. These barriers have a bigger bearing on the life of women and girls than what may be overtly visible. Decisions of choosing education institute to pursue education, profession and job to opt for, choosing leisure and fun time are mostly determined by either public spaces actually not safe or the fear and notion of being unsafe.

Public transport has a larger share in the constitution of any public space. Also, public transport is an important link to navigate between different public spaces and a large percentage of a person’s time is spent on public transport. So, when we talk of safe public spaces, transport is not something which can be ignored.

Also, women and men use public transport in different ways because of their distinct social roles and economic activities. According to the UN, women often “chain” their activities by combining multiple stops and destinations within a single, longer trip as a result of their household and caretaking responsibilities.

With the afore arguments and facts in the backdrop Manas Foundation in the year 2013 designed a programme to contribute towards making public spaces safe and equal for women. Since then, there has been no looking back. It has been a journey of exploring and implementing new innovative approaches and path-breaking strategies. Today this is one of the largest programmes in Asia on engaging men to create safe and equal public spaces for women and girls for greater gender equality.

Building Bond… Beginning of the journey

In light of the Nirbhaya incident it was in October 2013 Delhi Transport Department and Manas Foundation entered into a collaboration to design and implement this large-scale gender sensitization programme for all auto drivers. The programme was named “Building Bond” since it aimed at strengthening bonds of partnership between civil society organizations, public transport drivers and the state public transport department. While the gang rape of young girl in a moving bus created an uproar against the community of public transport drivers, the entire profession and the class/caste they belong, the premise of this programme recognized the deep-seated mindsets, social norms, practices and the underpinning mental health triggers which manifests themselves in such and similar forms of violence against women. It made a conscious effort to see drivers as potential partners in creating safer transportation and not as potential perpetrators.

The design of the programme had the following key elements to make it effective and impactful-

  • Amongst different kinds of transportation, the programme was piloted with auto drivers in Delhi where there are more than 2 lac auto drivers commuting passengers between varied points and locations in the city of Delhi.
  • The programme was seamlessly embedded within the annual vehicle fitness process, with a gender sensitization training participation certificate as a prerequisite for drivers while applying for vehicle fitness.
  • Three physical locations of the Regional Transport Officer (RTO) which are located at Loni, Sarai Kale Khan and Burari, where the physical vehicle fitness of the autos is undertaken was earmarked for training on gender for Manas Foundation. Physical closed space with the required infrastructure was assigned.
  • Every day at each location four training sessions were held and in each session 50-60 drivers participated. Soon after the training, a certificate of participation was awarded to the drivers. Post which the drivers could apply for their vehicle fitness process.
  • Each training session was for 3 hours and covered concepts of gender and gender-based violence, laws relating to women’s safety and rights and professional behaviours of public transport drivers, which could make public transport safe for women and girls.
  • The training session used medium and tools such a short video, quiz/game, role play to encourage participation and create safe space and non-judgmental space for drivers to reflect, dialogue and board the journey of change.
  • The programme as supported by Ford Foundation until 2014 Delhi and more than 50000 auto drivers were engaged in this programme.
Milestone reached…

Milestone reached…

In 2014, “Building Bonds” with thousands of auto rickshaws carrying the slogan “mera imaan mahilaon ka sammaan” could be visibly seen all over the city of Delhi. This caught attention of Indraprasth Gas Limited (IGL) because the programme aligned with its mandate of providing healthy, safe and cost effective solutions to private and public transportation.

In late 2015 Manas Foundation entered into a formal partnership with IGL to scale up the programme and take it to the next level of public transport, which was taxi. The implementation strategy remained same and Delhi Transport Department consented to extend its support of keeping the trainings mandated as part of the annual health checkup of the vehicles.   

By the end of 2016, “Building Bond” reached out to more than 2 lac auto and taxi drivers.

Turning point….Barabari ki Dagar Surakshit Safar

Year 2017 was path breaking for this programme. By this time the programme had emerged as one of the largest programmes in Asia on engaging men for promoting gender equality. Some of the its key achievements seen were-

  • Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL) declared this programme to be its largest CSR initiative and committed to giving financial support for scaling up the programme across Delhi/NCR
  • Mora than 5 lac auto and taxi drivers had undergone gender sensitization across Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon (NCR)
  • One in every five drivers had participated in the gender sensitization more than once.
  • One in every 20 drivers was reporting small but significant positive shift in their professional behaviours towards creating safe and equal public spaces for women and girls.
  • Drivers were sharing initiatives, which they were attempting to take within their family. Their increased ability to identify gender discriminatory practices within their families demonstrated positive shift in change and transition from professional to personal sphere of their life.

The changes demonstrated by the programme created the need and opportunity for it to be revisited and realigned to its larger goal of bringing gender equality through provision of accessible and equitable public transportation and it was in this year when the programme was reincarnated as Barabari ki Dagar, Surakshit Safar.  New approaches for more impactful programming were developed which aimed at-

  • Re-engaging drivers on the issue of gender and VAW beyond the one time in-class room training sessions to deepen understanding and knowledge
  • Motivating drivers to bring positive change in their personal life apart from professional life.
  • Public awareness initiatives on the issue of sexual harassment of women in public places to encourage by-stander actions.

Home visits– This entails programme team undertaking home visits to meet family members of drivers on a voluntary basis. During these interactions family members share positive stories of change especially, which they have been experiencing as a result of their driver family member’s participation in the programme.

Safe gaadi– Is a mobile app which has been explicitly developed for drivers which they download post training on their smart phones. The app comprises of learning material on gender, violence against women, laws pertaining to violence against, latest updates on programme activities like scholarship for their daughters, important days and celebrations on various social issues, drivers’ stories of positive change and actions etc. To ensure sustained use and interest of drivers for the app, learning material is in the form of incentive-based games and quiz with extensive use of audio-video tools. The app is available on App store for androids and iPhone and can be downloaded here.

Daughters of Delhi-This is another programme strategy to enable gender equality travel to personal life of drivers. Two kinds of scholarships under this initiative are offered to daughters of drivers. While the first one provides financial support aide high school education the second one is for skill building diploma/certified courses to those daughters who had to drop out from school.  Today more 1500 girls have been awarded with the scholarship as support for them to be able to realize their dreams.

Collective events for change:

This is a strategic activity to reengage drivers on various social issues to be active citizens. On important days in the history of women’s rights and human such as International Women’s Day, Human Rights Day. AIDS Day etc. drivers along with the programme team undertake events to engage with the larger community on some of these issues.

Crossing borders….Prrogramme in Haryana

In 2018, we were approached by UNICEF to take “Barabari ki Dagar Surakshit Safar“ to all 21 districts of Haryana. The programme begins its implementation in June 2019. Over a period of 6 months approximately 13000 drivers and conductors of Haryana Roadways would undergo training on gender sensitive professional behaviors and stress management. India Oil Corporation (IOC) is supporting the initiative under its CSR initiative in collaboration with Haryana Roadways Engineering Corporation (HREC) and State Transport Department, Haryana and Manas is the technical implementing partner.

While this gave a foot to the programme in the state, in 2020 Manas Foundation entered into an MOU with the government of Haryana to embed the programme within the transport system of license renewal or vehicle fitness in all the districts of the state. The MOU was signed on International Women’s Day (8th March 2020 )by the Honorable Chief Minister of Haryana, demonstrating the states commitment to end violence against women.

Today, the programme is successfully embedded and running in 3 districts of the Haryana apart from Gurgaon, to include Rewari, Karnal and Kaithal.

Another leap…Partnership between Manas Foundation and Uber India

Year 2018 brought with it yet another leap for this programme when Manas entered into partnership with world’s and India’s one of the largest private transport aggregator Uber India Systems Private Limited. The programme was launched in Delhi and in its pilot phase 6000 Uber partner drivers partners of Uber undertook gender sensitization training programme. The overwhelming response on change and motivation in drivers lead to scaling up of the programme in 7 major cities of India (Gurgaon, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune and Kolkatta. (Hyperlink to stories of Uber drivers and training). Today the programme has engaged more than one lac Uber partner drivers

Key operational elements of this programme are-

  • The Uber drivers using a set of criteria are identified by Uber and the drivers are persuaded to participate in the training
  • At the onset of the programme the trainings were held in the identified city at Uber’s local centres and regional trainers hired by Manas Foundation facilitated these trainings.
  • With the pandemic, these trainings have moved to virtual platform using zoom and are being held in 5 regional languages.
  • The drivers pledge to adapt professional behaviors and are felicitated with a certificate.
  • These certificates are displayed inside the vehicle which not only are a pride to the driver but also inculcate a safe and trusting environment for the commuter while they are in the vehicle/cab.