Are Women ‘Uncomfortable’ to be on the Streets of India?

A survey carried out by the Delhi Indian Institute of Technology looked at how gender inequalities impact daily mobility.

It found that women avidly avoid being on the streets of India.

Manisha, a 19-year-old maid, works full-time in a home outside Delhi.

Originally from Jharkhand, she stopped going to school due to inconsistent public transportation and frequent sexual harassment on the streets.

Manisha took a trip to the Indian capital and secured a position as an apartment resident. But she still avoids going outside, citing unsafe conditions and transportation challenges.

She said: “I am working but I only go out once or twice a month. I don’t feel comfortable on the streets.”

Rahul Goel, an assistant professor of transportation studies at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi, is not surprised by Manisha’s experience.

To learn more about how gender disparity affects daily mobility, he has analysed data from India’s first Time Use Survey, which evaluates the amount of time individuals spend engaging in various tasks.

Mr Goel specifically examined a dataset of 170,000 survey participants who were city and town residents.

The results were startling.

When surveyors went door-to-door, 53% of women admitted that they had not left the house the day before. Just 14% of men said they remained in as well.

In addition, the survey discovered that girls aged 10 to 19 were less likely than boys to go out and that there was a “slight increase in mobility” as women approached middle age.

Mr Goel feels it illustrates that traditional societal norms that prohibit women from working outside the house, or stepping out of the home at all “start their effect early in childhood”.

The study showed stark differences in gender roles. Men engaged in activities outside the home while women mostly performed housework.

Women between the ages of 25 and 44 worked at home or provided care for others for an average of 8.5 hours each day.

Less than an hour was spent on these activities by men in the same age range. Compared to 88% of males in this age range, just 38% of women reported leaving the house.

Women’s mobility decreased when they were married or shared a home, whereas men’s mobility was boosted.

Women who were married or had children also went out less.

For men, marriage and children had little to no effect. These data, according to Mr Goel, show that women are disproportionately responsible for home responsibilities.

Men were entering the workforce in greater numbers than women once they reached working age.

Men shift from education to employment when they reach the working age of 15, whereas this transition occurs for a very small percentage of women.

Compared to 81% of women who were either studying or working, just 30% of women who did not work reported leaving the house at least once.

In other words, many women are not only not leaving the house for work, but they are not leaving the house at all, according to Mr Goel.

Experts have been perplexed by some of the results.

There has been a “huge” increase in the number of girls enrolling in school and college in India, according to Ashwini Deshpande, a professor of economics at Ashoka University, and there is no indication of them missing classes.

It would imply that more women were independent and unrestricted by societal standards. She assured me that Indian women were not confined to their beds or forced to sit at home.

According to Professor Deshpande, Indians may also be “translating” the idea of travel differently depending on the language they speak.

She says: “I wouldn’t, for example, classify going to school or college as travel.”

Rising crimes against Indian women

However, contrary to popular belief, societal standards and a lack of employment do not adequately account for women’s limited mobility.

For instance, in the western city of Pune, which likewise reports a low proportion of women’s engagement in the workforce, women were active and quite visible on the streets.

Regional differences do exist, says Mr Goel, with considerably more women frequently venturing out in some areas.

According to research, 43% of India’s 1.6 million factory-working women reside in Tamil Nadu, where women may be seen walking around freely.

Since receiving free bicycles through a government programme, more females are venturing out to places like Bihar and West Bengal.

Compared to 80% of women, just 25% of Indian men perform unpaid housework.

Still, India – and some of South Asia – appears to be an outlier.

In every country, except for Lithuania, a 2007 review of time-use studies found women were more mobile than males.

In France, women made more journeys than men, but there were no gender disparities in the overall number of trips taken by each individual in London.

In a separate research of 18 cities in Australia, Europe, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and North America, it was discovered that on average 76% of women reported travelling, compared to 79% of males.

This demonstrated that India’s significant gender gap in the rate of movement is an “outlier phenomenon not commonly detected in most areas of the world”, according to Mr Goel.

However, the results are predictable on some level.

India has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates (27%) in the world, a low sex ratio, and mobility restrictions due to societal conventions.

Many women are still isolated and have few acquaintances, which limits their opportunity to socialise and criticise injustices.

Maternal death rates have decreased, fertility rates have decreased, the sex ratio at birth is steadily improving, and female enrollment rates in schools and universities have surged.

Mr Goel claims that “just getting women out of the house” is a major challenge.

Women’s feelings of insecurity on the roads – which are especially dangerous for young people and the elderly – are one factor.

He said: “Our public spaces are too masculine. We need to feminise them.”