India: Free metro travel for women: nudge women out to work

Author: Namita Bhandare, Economic Times, India, Published on: 9 June 2019

June 7, 2019

Months ahead of the Delhi elections…Delhi chief minister…promises free Metro and public bus rides for women. The details are still being worked out, and the scheme is expected to kick off in the next 2-3 months.

…In all the predictable hullabaloo following the announcement, the detail about boosting women’s workforce participation seems to have got lost.

India’s declining female workforce participation has not been on any political party’s agenda. But the slide has been undeniable. Over 10 years to Census 2011, as many as 19.6 million women fell off India’s employment map. The Economic Survey for 2015-16 puts India’s female workforce participation at 24%, the second-lowest in South Asia, above only Pakistan.

It would seem that at a time of rising educational attainment, economic growth and female aspiration, more, not less, women should have been opting for paid work. In fact, the opposite has been happening.

A complex layer of reasons — from bearing an inordinate burden of housework to social attitudes — seems to be holding women back from employment. Among the constraints, the cost of using public transportation is indeed one. But this cost includes not just the rupee fare, but also time taken and safety...There is an undeniable link between public transportation, women’s physical mobility and their empowerment.

…Across India, women form only 22% of the people who commute to work. According to Census 2011, only 15% in Delhi...Public spaces … belong to men.

In recognising that public transportation has the potential to be a gamechanger for women, [Delhi chief minister] is right on target. But, ultimately, here’s the question that the free-rides-for-women scheme must address: is it a subsidy, or an investment in women’s empowerment? In the answer to that question lies the success of this scheme.

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