Whether it is walking back home from school or college in the evening, or getting out of a meeting late at night; a woman travelling alone is a matter of varied debates and concern in our society. It is a sad reflection on the world’s largest democracy that it is still grappling with the issue of ‘women’s safety and empowerment.’
While the convenience of transport is guaranteed to most women in cities, safety isn’t. With the increasing number of cases of cab drivers being accused of rape and molestation, there has been a growing need for women cab drivers. This not only makes women commuters feel safe, but also provides a livelihood opportunity to several young women.
There are several players in the fray right from biggies like Ola to other players like Angel Cabs, and now comes WomenCabs. The first initiative by R2R ventures (Rozi to Roti); WomenCabs was established to promote empowerment and safety among women. “Most of our women drivers are from the lesser privileged sections of the society but want to show the world that they are in no way inferior to men,” says Shailendra Singh, Founder of R2R.
After serving in the Indian army for over 12 years, Shailendra worked in various IT companies like IBM and Satyam (now Tech Mahindra). It was after his seven-year stint in the corporate sector that Shailendra ventured into the world of social entrepreneurship. It was while at IIM — where he was doing a two-year course –that the idea of creating an organisation providing employment opportunities to women-only took root.
Being a former army officer Shailendra’s need to do something for society has always been strong. Therefore, empowering, and at the same time, protecting women was just the thing that appealed to him. He thought that while we live in a world with all the possible luxuries, we still have to worry if women are safe.
Has our society come this stage where every time a female member of our family ventures out alone we are restless until she is back home? It is indeed high time that we collectively work towards a safe and prosperous India for all.
At R2R, the team believes that women can excel in all areas of life. Therefore, driving cabs too should be an easily accomplishable feat for women.
The journey and challenges
Shailendra began working on the idea in November 2011.But it took almost two and a half years of research and fine-tuning before his organisation could start training its first batch of 35 women in October 2014. The work began with identifying prospective drivers, providing driving instructions, and also imparting soft skills training.
This training typically, lasts for over two months before the women drivers are assessed. After this they take the wheel independently. “Even after the two months initial training, we provide six hours of refresher training per week to our drivers on both technical and behavioural issues,” adds Shailendra.
Apart from the extensive training the team at R2R also works on converting the women into professionals. The intensive driving training curriculum is designed by experts with wide professional experience, and is imparted under the close supervision of seasoned lady drivers and Maruti Driving School. “We are trying to create a new ecosystem here and changing the mindset of people is a lot of hard work,” adds Shailendra.
Safety of the cab drivers
Apart from driving skills, the women are also trained in vehicle maintenance, customer interaction, communications, and even self-defence. This training is given by ex-defence personnel to ensure that the drivers can not only take care of themselves but also protect their women passengers, if the need arises.
WomenCabs caters to both corporate and retail clients: Weekdays for the corporate clients and weekends for select customers. Shailendra believes that this adds value to their eco-system where they know, who the customer,is as well as the route of operation. The cabs are fitted with GPS tracking devices and a panic button, which can alert the control room in case of any incident.
The prospective women cab drivers need to be at least 21 years of age and have the minimum qualification of tenth standard certification. “Many of them come from the lower strata of the society with limited income venues. But the women have the will to be independent bread-earners and not be dependent on anyone for their well-being,” says Shailendra.
The team consists of nearly over 65 women, who are at different stages of training. WomenCabs has launched its services in Bengaluru with five cabs and will be scaling to 25 cabs by the end of June 2015. In the next phase of operations, the company will launch services inthree more cities and scale to 80-100 cabs by the end of 2015.