From the outset, I was interested and intrigued by research on gender issues in public transport in Kathmandu. Familiar with the chaotic, noisy, and smelly traffic of Kathmandu, the everyday challenges people face in their commutes to work and school were as well known to me as regular excuses for colleagues being late to meetings; buses were ‘full’, ‘late’, ‘broke down’, ‘did not come’. But I was also aware that women in Kathmandu are often quite tough, feisty and assertive especially compared to those in cities of neighbouring countries I had experienced. What were the issues going to be?
My team of a dozen researchers comprised eight women and four men, all in their twenties and thirties. Most, but not all, had long abandoned using public transport themselves, preferring the reliability, control, comfort and safety of riding scooters or borrowing the family car. So, my first task was to get them all to experience public transport again. They spent a whole day travelling on different forms of transport all over the Kathmandu area, between them covering from day break until the last bus plied in the evening. As they travelled they chatted to fellow commuters. The following day the team re-convened and shared their public transport experiences. We worked through simulations of commuter behaviour - dramatizing what happens when waiting for, getting on, traveling on and getting off public transport. We noted the contortions required to avoid touching people in crowded and cramped spaces. We talked through what was acceptable and unacceptable.
All of this helped us draft a short questionnaire to capture the issues which emerged as important. We were very conscious that we would have to administer these in situ as people were commuting and that they needed to be simple. When we came to undertake the study, riding on transport ourselves and conducting approximately 500 interviews, we did not anticipate the enthusiasm with which people wanted to engage. Commuters, women and men, wanted to pour out their frustrations to the researchers and felt that the questions being asked went straight to the heart of the issues which concerned them. ‘Putting up’ with uncomfortable, overcrowded, unreliable, dirty, unhygienic, unsafe travel and the reckless driving, offensive banter between drivers and conductors, pickpockets and harassment had become normalized. Enough was enough.
It was not my first visit to a Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV). Every time I go to one, I come out inspired. What a great program this is: many thousands of girls who have missed the education boat are being brought back into the school system all over India! To me, it is the best part of Sarva Siksha Abiyan (SSA), the Government of India’s very successful Education for All Program.
That day in January, we were in Jehanabad in Bihar. We were sitting in the court yard of the KGBV school watching the karate demonstration the students put up for us. The girls learn karate for self-esteem and self-defense; it is a great thing. During the demo, one of the other girls came up to us. “I am Kusum”, she said, “I am in class 7.” Her English was perfect, so I complimented her on that. Kusum went back and we continued to watch the karate. When the program was over, Kusum came back to the front, with a determined look on her face. “Next year, I will go to class 8” she said. “I am happy you came to visit my school.”
In light of International Women’s Day coming up on March 8th, I would like to share some two inspiring stories of young women that I met in Sri Lanka. They showed incredible entrepreneurialism and innovation in integrating ICT skills in creative teaching and learning at a university.
The first woman that I met was a young Information Communications Technology (ICT) training teacher, Kamani Samarasinghe, from the University of the Visual & Performing Arts. She creatively taught her class (both regular university classes and distance learning classes) through integrating a career development course into an ICT skills development class, holding virtual training sessions connecting with professor Ramesh Sharma from Indira Gandhi National Open University, and leveraging various free open education resources into her training such as YouTube videos and free typing training courses like GoodTyping. She also creates various tutorial materials (how to search, how to use Google Drive, and etc) on Google Doc and share with students.
As fate would have it, Sriviliputtur Government Hospital (in Tamil Nadu’s Ramnathapuram district) happened to be one of the first hospitals he reviewed on taking charge. An officer on Pankaj Kumar Bansal’s team drew his attention to a heavily pregnant lady, who was close to panic stricken tears on being referred out, yet again, to another government hospital for emergency obstetric care. That Sriviliputtur itself was a designated CEmONC center (Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric and Neonatal Care Center) mandated to provide every conceivable (except for the very super-specialized) care required for a pregnant mother and her neonate, and yet was incapable of handling the emergency, distressed him deeply.