Free Ride, But Still a Long Way To Go…
Being a woman has its challenges and its perks. Over the past few days we've seen a flurry of discussions centred around women and gender equality. On one hand we get a free metro ride thanks to Mr. Kejriwal, and on the other - 30 young, beautiful (and almost identical) Miss India contestants set the bar for beauty - a smiling collage of faces that are all fair, with mostly long lustrous hair and shiny teeth - impossible standards we must all aspire to. In a country as large and culturally diverse as ours, it seems the definition of beauty is constant and predetermined. We all need to conform to the expected stereotype to be beautiful. Taking some of the pressure off, Zomato announced that it is going to offer 26 weeks of paid paternity leave for both men and women. Thus giving newly minted parents the opportunity to define their own roles as per their convenience, and the freedom to choose how to invest time in their baby. It gives men the chance to take on the responsibility of fatherhood and participate in its upbringing, and it gives women the chance to get back to work and the liberty to say no to being the expected primary caregiver.
All these recent developments are important, as they help in carrying forward the conversation around gender. The first SDG Gender index ranks India a dismal 95th out of 129 countries in its measurement against achieving gender commitments against international standards. We clearly have a long way to go.
There are several studies that show India's GDP can increase by upto 25% simply by including more women in the workforce. Perhaps the mobility and freedom offered by a free metro ride in the capital city, can nudge women into stepping out to find opportunities for themselves. I don't want to count a metro ticket as an advantage or a symbol of empowerment, but having lived in Delhi many years ago, I remember being out on the road and alone was always a very stressful experience. To constantly be aware of every potential push and nudge, a nasty comment, a jeer...holding onto my handbag, and making sure I have a 'don't mess with me' look pasted permanently on my face. Things have perhaps changed for the better since then, but the fact is that Delhi still feels unsafe in varying degrees.
Horrific stories of rape and harassment keep popping up at regular intervals. I never felt that way in Mumbai. Not necessarily because Mumbai is safer, but because no matter how late into the night I get back, there are always women travelling around me. In this context Arvind Kejriwal's announcement making metro rides free for women is a step forward. Hopefully we will get to see more women in public places.
There can be many arguments against the move. There are those who are financially secure and independent and do not need a free ride, but then for every woman who can pay for a ticket, there might be so many more who hesitate. Questions are being asked on the financial prudence of such a scheme, and it is also being criticised as a pre poll gimmick to lure voters. In all of this what is interesting is that women seem to be newly discovered as a powerful block of voters. And various parties have gone all out to woo them - from prohibition in Bihar, distribution of bicycles, to the Mudra and Ujjwala gas cylinder scheme. The outreach is not only restricted to welfare schemes, we've also seen the introduction of the triple talak bill and the proposal to reserve 33% of the seats in the Odisha assembly and parliament.
For many years politics has diced and sliced the voters based on caste and community, recently they discovered gender. Delhi assembly elections are coming up next year, and Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has announced free metro rides. Perhaps some good will come out of it.
(Ekta is a columnist and a writer. She represents India on multiple forums in the European Union on human right campaigns, gender related issues and is working closely with the EU to strengthen ties between the two countries. She is also a Chartered Accountant and an MBA from IIM Calcutta)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of OneIndia and OneIndia does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.