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Women in shorts are okay: How 6,000 Uber drivers were sensitised on gender

Neha Alawadhi & Aashish Aryan/New Delhi 13 Jul 19 | 08:00 PM

The ride-hailing app has tied up with an NGO to sensitise drivers about gender

Aakanksha, a business architect with an information technology firm in Hyderabad, had once boarded an Uber cab in New Delhi, driven by a middle-aged man. “He spoke to me about how women in his family in rural Haryana do not go out of home or wear short clothes," she recollected, adding: “I thought it was unfair for him to be exposed to big city life and be completely at ease with it."

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In a bid to improve user experience and enhance safety for women, ride-hailing app Uber has tied up with Manas Foundation, a non-government organisation (NGO), to train its drivers in gender sensitisation.

The Delhi-based NGO has been working in mental health and gender equality and justice for 15 years. It has developed a behaviour-change module to engage men in making public transport safe for women.

They apply the principles of psychology to combat violence against women through interventions with drivers of public transport vehicles.

Kicked off nationally, the programme trained more than 6,000 drivers in 2018.

In 2019, the company aims to train at least double the number, sources said. The customised driver-sensitisation sessions are focussed on safety, with specific attention given to behaviour on the platform and women’s safety, Uber said in a statement.

“At Uber, we believe in the transformative potential of technology to create these new alternatives, but at the same time, we recognise that we still have a lot to contribute, specifically in terms of how to confront structural and systemic social phenomena such as gender based violence. We also understand that safe transportation for women has a huge impact on the choices they make and the opportunities they can access. That is why, to further reiterate our commitment towards building safer cities and the safety of all those who use the Uber app, we are scaling up our nationwide gender sensitization workshops delivered by Manas Foundation," said Pavan Vaish, head of operations, India and South Asia.

The sessions are being conducted twice a day for six days per week, with each of them being attended by 40-50 driver partners on an average. Uber has been able to reach out to thousands of driver partners in the country until now, the company said.

Uber and its closest rival Ola have been at the centre of controversies involving violence and sexual misconduct against women in the past, most notably the rape of a passenger in Delhi in 2014 by an Uber driver.

While efforts like this will not eliminate the problem, they do have an impact in terms of explaining a cultural shift for drivers.

 “We are very excited to scale up this distinctive programme with Uber to engage men in taking ownership of the safety of their women passengers. These sessions involve participatory activities that clearly explain the concept of gender and how the laws governing gender discrimination and abuse have changed over the last few years. The training helps clarify what encompasses sexual harassment and it is this understanding of the issue that has been crucial to the change in treatment of women — as commuters and members of their own families," said Monica Kumar, co-founder, Manas Foundation.

Uber has also introduced several innovative features such as a set of tech based safety features, hosted within the Safety Toolkit and forged strong partnerships with government bodies to bring transparency, accountability and strengthen safety of riders before, during and after a trip.

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