- Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Why I Shun Women-Only Travel Services

Because women need to reclaim their space (Photo by: Thomas Leuthard)
I am a tad upset. I have just read about a hotel chain which is soon launching women-only hotels. I know I should be kicked about it, as I often travel solo, but I am not.

Traditionally, our streets, roadside restaurants, public parks, pan- cigarette tapris have been a male bastion. While women cooked and looked after household, it was men who would occupy the streets.

Not much has changed even now except more women are independent and working outside their homes. But these seemingly public spaces remain a male bastion.

Recent hike in reported sexual harassment and rape cases has led to a new trend: women-only car services, train coaches and now women-only hotels. The key term for marketing of these services is not women's comfort, its women's safety. 

On the face of it, this looks like a welcoming change. Women traveling for work or for leisure, within city or across country, can now have access to safe commute and hotel stay. Tourism boards are taking pride in it, brands are pitching in and travel bloggers are raving about it.

But this whole situation is also gnawing me. Have we, as a society, come to this that we need exclusive hotels and taxis for women to feel safe? Are we trying to say, because we cannot control harassment on roads, let's safeguard women in these enclosures? Are we reiterating that women are not safe in general coaches, hotels and taxis driven by men? 

It's not always a lone fight (Photo by: Keith Ellwood)

As a woman traveller (often solo) I do want to feel safe and secure. But at the same time, I am not ready to give up my space on public streets, dhabas, hotels and taxis.
One good outcome of this new trend, however, is that Indian women are slowly foraying into "male" jobs.
I remember the days when I used to take metro from Delhi to Gurgaon for work. Women-only coaches would be so packed in office hours that I preferred traveling in general coaches. In a more recent instance, I found myself traveling in a general coach of Mumbai local in off-peak hours. I am new to Mumbai local railway system. I reached the platform, couldn't locate a women's coach so quickly hopped onto a general coach. Then? 

Such is the daily life at Mumbai! (Photo by: Rajarshi Mitra)
Then I reached home. Safe and secure. No one groped me. No one stared at me. I am probably expected to add "fortunately" here, but I won't. A women traveling in a general coach and not being harassed is not "fortunate"– this is how it should be in the first place. Sadly, we have forgotten that a general coach is a general coach and not a male-only coach. Safe travel of women should be taken for granted and not something expected as a measure for "women empowerment".


Now, this doesn't mean I live in a fairyland. Bad experiences do happen. It can happen at home, office, neighbourhood, train or even airplane. There is no doubt about the fact that as a woman, I am more vulnerable to unpleasant experiences. When traveling solo, I have to be extra cautious of my environment, be vigilant of prying eyes, be appropriately clothed, avoid late nights and most importantly appear confident at all times. Confidence, sadly, cannot be faked. Confidence can only develop when you leave that couch and step out– by yourself. So, there is no better alternative to actually moving around and experiencing the world with all six senses.

It's all like a balancing act between reclaiming our space and being safe!

So, what will you choose?


Note: This story has also been published in Huffington Post: Why I Steer Clear Of Women-Only Travel Services


4 comments:

  1. The lack of vision is evident in knee-jerk reaction. The mob bays for blood and the policy makers pacify. In the urge for quick and pragmatic solutions we have forgotten to ask the right questions and realise that most of the time we are trying to solve the wrong problem.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing your views Bharat. You've rightly extracted the essence my story!

      Delete
  2. Excellent article, I couldn't agree more! It's very refreshing to see that some people are still using their judgement and do not succumb to the new widely spread "trends" of fear and panic. As an -older than you of course- woman from Greece and a fellow blogger who has travelled alone and lived in India for almost 5 years, I am very happy to have read this post. Keep up the good work (you made me think of coming back to your beautiful country) :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for stopping by, Angie! Appreciate your words, and glad to have found a fellow believer in the simple idea of women equally sharing public spaces with men. It's true that most of us have stopped questioning things around us. Our minds are so much conditioned into believing in certain set ways of life, that a simple thought like this seems radical.

      Delete