This article has been written by Dhanalaxmi Patwardhan, pursuing a Diploma in Labour, Employment and Industrial Laws for HR Managers from LawSikho and edited by Shashwat Kaushik.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
Table of Contents
Flight Lieutenant Har Raj Kaur Boparai, the IAF’s first and only woman pilot of the heavy lift transport aircraft C-17 Globemaster, has taken part in Operation Kaveri – India’s mission to bring back its citizens safely from the strife-torn Sudan.
This news is of special significance for two reasons-
- The way India takes complete responsibility and care of its citizens in such a crisis situation, and
- increased opportunities for women in diverse roles. First and only woman pilot, that too, for transport aircraft.
This, certainly, is the beginning of a changing society and work culture with respect to inclusivity and responsibilities without gender bias or social perception.
Current reality/impact of women’s participation in transport
Transport plays a crucial role in the mobility of people in a growing economy. It has become an inseparable part of our lives. Thus, it becomes imperative to strengthen all aspects of the sector in order to ensure its accessibility.
The sector is traditionally dominated by men and India is no exception to this. Though the government has introduced reservation schemes, training centres, and certain facilities, especially for women, the ratio of women’s participation is not encouraging. According to the 2021 census, India has 100 girls for every 107 males but the working population in India shows a different picture. The Honourable Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, in the 82nd edition of Mann Ki Baat, has also spoken for women’s empowerment, emphasising education, skilling and microfinance as three pillars of women’s empowerment. Despite the population ratio per the Niti Aayog report, just 27 females per 1000 work in transport as compared to 117 males per 1000. Initiatives such as the extended Maternity Benefit, the crèche facility, and allowing night duty for women while keeping their safety in mind have been taken to encourage women’s participation, but still, the societal outlook towards jobs in transport for women is unwelcoming. Statistics say that globally, women comprise 8% of the workforce in the transport industry and 15% of the workforce, specifically in India.
Challenges for women in transport industry
Workplaces are not designed for a female workforce and lack basic amenities like separate restrooms or bathrooms for female staff. There is very little possibility of a good washroom facility for women working at warehouses or at level crossing railway gates. The mind-set of management towards providing such basic facilities to the low level employees, forces women to stay away from such jobs. This naturally limits the contribution of women to the workforce in such areas and their choices are left to desk jobs or clerical and administrative jobs, where they have better access to safety and basic hygiene.
The same is true in the case of road travel. Generally, we see that truck drivers halt in groups at roadside Dhabas in shared accommodation. As there are no dedicated and secure accommodation facilities for women for such long distance hauls, women hesitate to take up such jobs.
Having less participation in such jobs leads to meagre possibilities for career progression and rising in the higher decision-making ranks of organisations. This further impacts the introduction and development of basic women- friendly workplace infrastructure. This is why employment opportunities in the airline industry, such as pilots, air hostesses and customer service executives, are greater as compared to Railways for loco pilots or Guards (8% of the total workforce) or road transport. However, for a managerial position, the ratio of women employees in railways is around 13%, which is encouraging. The recent increase in women ticket checkers as well as women bus conductors is a sign of a change in societal perception and workplace mentality. But it is still limited to short distance travel.
Roles in the transport industry are perceived as mentally stressful, requiring more physical strength, with odd timings and hard to deal with considering the varied range of customers. That is why, generally, women are not encouraged to choose transport and logistics as part of their formal education.
Dipti Vaidya, founder of Nashik-based Pick Up & Drop agency, said, “Acceptance of women as delivery girls is still a concern in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities from prospective employees as well as end customers. Actually, there are ample opportunities for women in the delivery segment, as it offers flexible hours. After completing the household responsibilities, they can opt for 4 to 6 hours of work and be financially independent”.
In the 21st century also, the delivery girls have to face sarcastic questions from customers like “why have you chosen such a role in delivery service?” or comments from family pointing out “it is not good to move door to door, wait at the roadside for next order,” etc. This certainly makes the job unglamorous and most of the delivery girls leave the job in a month’s time.”
This gives us the message that we, as a society, should learn to dignify every job. Dipti even feels it necessary to employ a male supervisor, as the delivery boys are more comfortable with a male authority than a female.
The demand for dedicated and willing employees exceeds the current unskilled labour market. Women are considered to be more dedicated, loyal and focused on work completion. They have a greater sense of responsibility and a greater desire to provide a better lifestyle for the family, especially for the children.
Most of the clients of ‘Hojayega’ are women from the apparel, bakery, and tiffin service segments who require a quick and reliable delivery platform. A lot of women and even the maternity hospitals prefer and are more comfortable with delivery girls rather than delivery boys for their orders.
The new age of female startups
Despite all the inherent challenges, the new age start-ups as well as logistics giants like Mahindra Logistics have taken initiative in the de-genderisation of roles in this industry. ‘Hey DeeDee’ is a delivery start-up founded by Revathi Roy, employing all women riders. The aim is to create job opportunities for women in a male dominant field.
Even the e-commerce giant Amazon operates two very successful women only delivery centres in Thiruvananthapuram and Chennai and is planning on launching more such centres in the near future. Mahindra Logistics has started hiring women drivers in Kerala and Delhi. Uber and Ola taxi services are hiring women drivers in big ways.
Training and up-skilling have an important role to play in creating such equal employment opportunities. ‘Hey DeeDee’ and ‘EvenCargo’ are working at the grassroot level to identify the women from various communities, provide them with proper training ranging from 45 to 90 days and then employ them in field jobs. They also incorporate safety training for these women. It enhances their skills and boosts their confidence. In 2014, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in India launched WiLAT( Women in Logistics and Transport) with the aim of encouraging more women to join the sector and also providing further training to those already in it.
Steps towards increasing women’s participation in transport
Merely announcing equal opportunities and openness for gender equality will not suffice. It has to be backed by concrete actions in both infrastructure and regulatory measures.
- Glamorising and incentivising the job- Offering good pay-outs for jobs in the transport industry will make the challenging job more lucrative than doing a low-paying job for an eligible female workforce. Only monetary gain will make the job more attractive, initially.
- Marketing- The opportunities in transport should be marketed widely. The women should be educated about the challenges and means to overcome them, as well as benefits attached to them.
- Reservations in managerial positions- It is observed that change is sometimes forced in order to establish an acceptable norm over a period of time. Reservations in managerial positions will create a safer environment for discussing women’s issues openly and increase their bargaining power for basic rights.
- Educating men-workforce on adapting to change- Involving men in this initiative of organisational and societal change through training will help establish a mutually supportive and cooperative culture at the workplace.
The new generation, especially females, is more open to accepting so-called physically tricky and challenging jobs. They place work priorities on an equal pedestal with family, unlike the earlier generations and consequently have greater aspirations too. They are more vocal about their problems and getting them resolved, on one side, and more resilient with a “I can and will do it” attitude, on the other. This is quite an encouraging sign for the times to come.
If organisations focus on certain parameters like basic women-friendlywomen- friendly infrastructure, respect, equal opportunities and safety at the workplace, it will be a welcoming and encouraging field for women to consider a career in.
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