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, paan-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 today except more women are independent and working outside their homes. But these seemingly public spaces remain a male bastion.
The recent increase in reported sexual harassment and rape cases has led to a new trend: women-only taxi services, coaches and now women-only hotels. The key term in marketing of these services is women's safety, not women's comfort. The areas of operation are big metropolitan cities, not the hinterlands.
On the face of it, this looks like a welcoming change. Women travelling for work or for leisure, within the city or across the country, can now have access to a 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 a pass where we need exclusive hotels and taxis for women to feel safe? Are we trying to say that because we cannot control harassment on the 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?
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 traditionally "male" jobs.
I remember the days when I used to take the metro from Delhi to Gurgaon for work. Women-only coaches would be so packed in office hours that I preferred travelling in general coaches. In a more recent instance, I found myself travelling in the general coach of a Mumbai local in off-peak hours. I am new to the Mumbai railway system and couldn't locate a women's coach so quickly hopped onto a general coach. Then?
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 travelling 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's 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 travelling 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?
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