By: Anju Malhotra, Vice President of Innovation at The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)
Women are on the move in New Delhi, and in an entirely new way: on the Metro. I couldn’t help but notice them during my last trip to India a few weeks ago. Women filled the first car of every train — by law designated exclusively for them — and were scattered throughout the co-ed cars. They were of all ages, and from all walks of life: young teens in their jeans; moms in saris with one child in their arm and another at their hand; middle-aged women from North Delhi covered in burqas; and working women dressed professionally and in a hurry. Seeing this, I realized that the Indian government’s latest large-scale infrastructure project has become an innovation that is unintentionally, but most definitely empowering women.
The new mode of transportation was meant to bring Delhi into the 21st century for the Commonwealth Games and to connect the burgeoning, diverse, rambling metropolis. While there was no thought of empowering women in the planners’ minds, in its design and roll out, this innovation has met the needs of women, satisfying a latent demand for fast, clean, safe, affordable transportation. For too long, urban Indian women have faced disadvantages when it comes to transportation: They walk, while men ride motorcycles. They are groped on packed minibuses. They fear for their safety in taxis. The Metro is attractive to women because it’s opening new worlds and opportunities for them by connecting them to school, jobs, friends, shops and tourism in ways they hadn’t been before. And in a growing economy, women – just like men – need to be going places.
The unintentional outcomes that Metro is providing women offer important lessons for the U.S. government’s new approach to development outlined in its inaugural Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). The QDDR provides concrete steps to promote innovation and technology in USAID’s work to achieve development outcomes. It also calls for a focus on gender equality and elevated investments in women and girls as a way to “maximize results across the board.”
The Delhi Metro is a striking example of how to double the impact of our foreign assistance dollars – in this case, an investment in a 21st century technology also is helping to foster equity between India’s women and men. The Metro is empowering women – even though it was not built with them in mind. It illustrates why it is important to consider big, innovative technologies – such as infrastructure projects – as a way to empower women. No longer can investments in women be small side bars or clunky add-ons to the development agenda.
And imagine what technology and infrastructure investments could do if they considered women from the beginning, not accidentally as an afterthought, but as a key demographic and half of the consumer base. Imagine. We would be able to not only create more women on the move, but new technologies, new products, new consumers, new markets, and new ideas.
Anju Malhotra is the vice president for research, innovation and impact at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). Malhotra was a featured speaker at the Elliott School of International Affairs Roundtable Discussion on “Implementing the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review” on April 14, 2011.
The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) works to make women in developing countries an integral part of alleviating global poverty. ICRW’s research evidence identifies women’s contributions as well as the obstacles that prevent them from being economically strong and able to fully participate in society. ICRW translates these insights into a path of action that honors women’s human rights, ensures gender equality and creates the conditions in which all women can thrive. Visit www.icrw.org