For the planning commission, all roads should ideally lead to gender sensitivity. In a draft of the 12th plan (2012-17), tabled by it at a meeting of the National Development Council on December 27 last year, the commission reasons that the country’s infrastructure, particularly its roads, should be made women-friendly.
The spotlight, states the draft, should shift from major roads to the development of those offering quick inter- and intra-village connectivity. This will facilitate socially-backward women’s uplift, it adds.
“Every minute, a woman dies in childbirth, but many of these deaths could be avoided with timely access to transport. Gender responsive infrastructure interventions can free up women’s time by lowering their transaction costs. This, in turn, will increase girls’ school enrolments and facilitate women’s participation in income-generation and decision-making activities,” reads the draft.
The planning commission had picked up the idea to look at transport infrastructure through a gendered lens from Prof Ritu Dewan, head of the centre of women’s studies/gender economics, department of economics at University of Mumbai. After having initiated a debate on this issue in 2012, she had recently authored a paper on policies which need to be oriented to women’s needs. The paper was submitted to the planning commission and the ministry of rural development early in December last year.
Reviewing the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojna (PMGSY), the Centre’s flagship programme to develop roads in hilly, rural and tribal areas, the paper had pointed out the untapped potential of the scheme, besides suggesting that women’s needs need to be looked into while developing transport systems.
Prof Dewan, who has surveyed various parts of the country over the last two years, says the PMGSY has changed the quality of life of women in rural India, who form a major part of the country’s workforce, but there is still a long way to go. “The reason is that women’s purpose of travel, route, frequency, vehicles and specific needs were never taken into account while designing any physical infrastructure in the country. Instead of new big roads, such women ask for lit intra-roads for security reasons.”
She explains that to women in rural areas, major roads make little difference since they take long kachcha paths while carrying loads of perishable produce to sell in the market. “They also need to walk long to fetch water and firewood. A cycle is unavailable, inaccessible and unaffordable to women. Thus, a woman of rural and semi-urban India spends many hours walking on non-developed paths. This drains them both physically and mentally.”
Coastal roads also need gendered approach
The PMGSY doesn’t include coastal roads, but Prof Dewan’s paper observes that women in coastal areas carry loads of fish and other perishable seafood and, therefore need more inter- and intra-village connecting roads to make travel hassle-free.
Draft 12th plan also stresses on transport safety
The draft 12th plan points out that “transport Safety has been a neglected area in the past and credible institutional framework to address the issue at central, state and city levels are required.”
“The entire transport system must be designed to accommodate the individual who has the worst protection and lowest tolerance of violence.”
The 12th plan will be used to set up appropriate institutional structures which create a demand for scientific work on issues of road, railway, water and air transport safety.