Over the last few years, a string of sexual assault cases has catapulted New Delhi into the world’s spotlight. In 2012, a 23 year-old medical student was gang-raped in a bus by six men and later succumbed to her injuries while undergoing treatment in Singapore. In 2014, a 51 year-old Danish woman was robbed, beaten and raped at knife-point by a group of men after she had stopped to asked for directions back to her hotel.
A survey conducted back in 2010 by the Women and Child Development Department of Delhi found that an astonishing 80% of women in this city fear for their safety.
There is a great need for something to be done to ensure the safety of women in the city.
Sakha Consulting Wings, a company that provides for-women-by-women transport solutions, has taken it upon themselves to address this concern. And by putting forth such an initiative, in turn Sakha has created new job opportunities for women all around Delhi.
Catriona Mitchell of Luminarya sat down recently with Deepali Bhardwaj, Chief Operations Officer of Sakha Consulting Wings and spoke of the need for such a service for women, the obstacles they face as a company and ultimately, the empowerment these women gain by taking on this traditionally male-dominated profession.
Catriona Mitchell: Deepali, Sakha’s services cater to women travelling across Delhi alone and particularly at night. This already seems to suggest a change in Indian society: is it fair to say that ten years ago there wouldn’t have been this need, because women would more commonly have travelled with a male family member?
Deepali Bhardwaj: A lot of women do travel at night now, and this is the case because the number of corporate women has increased across the country. And they’re not finding a comfortable way of travelling with taxis. They find something like this very innovative. Getting women to try this ten years back was a very difficult task, but we’ve broken the mould.
CM: Not only are you empowering women by employing them, you’re employing them within a strictly male domain. In a way that seems like a double form of empowerment.
DB: So far this has been seen as a male bastion. The reason we started is we wanted to give women a livelihood with dignity. Women are typically associated with domestic work, especially from the strata that they come from: largely these are marginalized women, from the urban poor slums. We meet them and try to mobilize them; we tell them this is what they should be doing, to look at it as a career option, to start working for themselves and for the good of their families and children.
When we started five to ten years back, things were very different. Today, because of the women who are already drivers with us, who are role models in the communities from which they come, it’s becoming much more acceptable.
CM: In the beginning, did your staff literally walk into slums and look around for women who might be suitable to become drivers?
DB: We do that even now. That’s how it works on an ongoing basis.
CM: How do the women’s families tend to react?
DB: Our association is not just with the drivers; our association is with the families as well. In case of any problems that our drivers are facing in their families, they know that they can always reach out to the organization. They know that support will be available to them in case of a difficulty – whether it is because of a technical issue on the road or whether it is a problem at their house. So they know people will be standing behind them, hence Sakha becomes like a family to them.– continued Read the full interview on Luminarya