Banning Uber Won’t Make Delhi Women Any Safer, And It Could Make Things Worse

Decreasing access to alternative transportation is a short-term solution to the idea of masculinity that contributes to India's epidemic of sexual assault

Uber is not having a good month. As if various already swirling controversies weren’t enough, last Sunday an Uber driver in Delhi was arrested two days after allegedly picking up a 26-year-old woman who booked a ride, taking her to a secluded area, and raping her. Delhi authorities have since banned Uber for not conducting adequate background checks on their drivers and not adhering to licensing rules. They have also banned all other app-based cab service providers in Delhi.

This is commendably a swift and decisive action, especially in a city and country under high pressure and bright spotlights when it comes to such attacks on women. But banning Uber and other app-based cab services hardly means the problem is solved. In reality, it’s a quick fix—one that could even make matters worse by limiting the options available to women who already feel under siege.

According to a recent Safe Cities Delhi Programme report based on research conducted by the International Center for Research on Women, 92% of Delhi’s women have experienced some form of sexual violence in public spaces in their lifetime. This is the problem. Of course, Uber needs to improve its own operations in countless ways, starting with improved screening and background checks, and should be held accountable for the actions of its drivers. But Uber did not cause this problem. Uber is just one of the many places and spaces in which violence against women presents itself. The problem is men who sexually harass and assault women. The problem is current concepts of masculinity that lead to the impunity and tolerance underlying the epidemic of sexual harassment and rape of women in public spaces. And for this problem to be adequately addressed, the government needs to create and implement a comprehensive set of measures that has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and sexual assault of women.

The quick decision to ban Uber is important in that it sends a message to all companies operating in this space that they need to follow regulations with seriousness. However, it is already unsafe for women to get around in Delhi. The metro has separate compartments for women—but what do they do when they step off the train? That’s partly why Uber and other private cab companies are in demand in the first place. Decreasing access to multiple modes of alternative transportation for women is a short-term and limited solution. Rather than further limiting the options available to women, how about increasing women’s safety not only by enforcing regulations and providing safer modes of operation, but by also increasing the number of men who hold themselves and others accountable for their behavior and actions?

That’s where we could shine a light back on Uber. Last month, when a journalist accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny,” a senior executive reportedly suggested launching a personal smear campaign against her; he also reportedly said at a party that taxi drivers are far more likely to assaulted women than Uber drivers. Those are not comments made by someone who is holding himself or his company, or his company culture, accountable. The rape in Delhi provides an opportunity for Uber, and other business owners, to step up and talk about how they will use their positions to stand for safety and equality. This is a chance for all companies to be part of the solution in making violence against women unacceptable.

We need to address sexual harassment, rape, and all forms of violence against women by demanding accountability from our institutions, our communities, and our peers. Arresting one man, banning one company in one city, and calling the problem solved is simply not enough. The government needs to provide, increase, and ensure safety measures for all transportation companies. Beyond that, the government needs to provide, increase, and ensure ways for women to move around safely in the first place.

Now let’s look at culture change and mindset. In its newest baseline measures of sexual harassment, Breakthrough, a human rights organization, reports that up to 98% of women and girls say they don’t feel completely safe in public areas[link to this report?]. This means only 2% of women feel safe at all. We need 100% of women to feel 100% safe. This will take more than banning a company or deleting an app. This will take more than the death sentence meted out to the men who raped and killed Jyothi in the now infamous Delhi gang rape two years ago. The best deterrent to sexual harassment and rape is culture change: bold, steady, and persistent challenges to the norms and biases that enable and excuse violence against women.

There is some movement in the right direction. Some 40,000 rickshaw drivers have received training on women’s safety and display stickers on their rickshaw saying, “This responsible rickshaw respects and protects women.” That’s not just a practical response; that’s a public statement for women’s rights.

And recent protests in New Delhi in support of the rape survivor show that people are taking and demanding concrete action and accountability. Indeed—especially since the Delhi gang rape—more and more men and boys have been standing with women to call for change.

We need even more. We need to dismantle the biases that blame or hold women responsible for the dangers they encounter. We need to make violence and discrimination against women socially and culturally unacceptable, in India and beyond—not just in the spectacular cases with seemingly easy solutions, but in our everyday lives, streets, and interactions. When women are truly safe, we will all get where we need to go.

Mallika Dutt is president and CEO of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization based in India and the U.S. that works to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable.

TIME feminism

India’s Rapes Too Often Excused as ‘Boys Will Be Boys’

JNUSU Protest Against Badaun Dalit Girls Rape And Murder Case
Hindustan Times—Hindustan Times via Getty Images Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union activists shouting slogans in front of Uttar Pradesh Bhawan against the gruesome gang-rape and hanging of two Dalit girls in Badaun, demanding immediate arrest of all the culprits on May 30, 2014 in New Delhi, India.

Let’s stop saying that half the human race is inherently aggressive, predatory and incapable of transformation.

Yet again global outrage and attention are focused on India. In the most recent rape-murder in Uttar Pradesh, a story of “boys will be boys” unfolded in a chilling and familiar pattern. Two teenage girls belonging to the Dalit caste went out to the fields because there are not enough toilet facilities for women in India. They never returned.

The shocked reaction to their rape and murder was ignited in part by the devastating image of these two young girls left hanging from a tree. This image–with the local villagers holding vigil beneath them–hit me in the solar plexus despite my three decades of working to end violence against women. It’s all so hauntingly familiar–and yet the rage at the inhumanity of men and the pain at the loss of yet more female lives remain visceral. But the rage and pain are not, and should not be, focused only on the most spectacular rape-murders or misogynist massacres. (For one thing, according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, three to five rapes of women and girls, mostly Dalit, occur daily in Uttar Pradesh alone.) We need to pay attention to–and do something about–what happens in between, and what lies beneath.

And what is that? In the context of past rapes, Mulayam Singh Yadav, head of Uttar Pradesh’s governing party, the Samajwadi Party, has said, “Boys will be boys. They make mistakes.” His statement, made in opposition to the new law calling for the death penalty for gang rapes, highlights the underlying social norms that contribute to most forms of violence against women and girls, in India and around the world.

Boys are typically rapists and murderers? Rapes and murders are “mistakes”? “Boys will be boys” is an egregious excuse and a profound insult to women and girls, and to men and boys.

It also enables the violence to continue. With global attention focused sharply on India since the “Nirbhaya” gang rape of 2012, we’ve begun to view Indian men as predators and rapists. It’s an unacceptable stereotype, but to what degree do we perpetuate it ourselves, and in the process excuse or incubate violence? Far too often, the “boys will be boys” view indulges and dismisses behavior—including daily micro-violence such as catcalling—that is totally out of bounds. Layer that with all the additional gender, class and caste privilege, and what do we have? The world’s largest–and most socially tolerated–human rights pandemic: violence and discrimination against women and girls. Not just in India. Everywhere.

What do we do? First, this is an opportunity for the Indian government to step up. India has a new prime minister with an absolute majority in the government. He and his new cabinet have the opportunity to show their commitment to women’s security and rights. Union Cabinet Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi on Friday said that a “rape crisis cell” would be created for speedy action on such incidents.

This is a step in the right direction. But that’s about improved response after the violence has already maimed, hurt or killed. Let’s talk about prevention and how we stop the abuse. We need to ask: “Boys will be boys”–at what cost? Boys are not robotic rapists, any more than girls are ornaments and objects for their aggressions. Let’s stop saying that half the human race is inherently aggressive, predatory and incapable of transformation. As long as we presume those to be normal, immutable, uncontrollable male traits, we won’t recognize more in–or demand more from–boys and men. Indeed, this bleakly low standard harms everyone. So next time you find yourself thinking or saying “boys will be boys,” catch yourself. Our lives depend on it.

Mallika Dutt is president and CEO of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization based in India and the U.S. that works to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable.

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