THE BLOG
04/07/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Taxis by women, for women

Revathi Roy promises her customers the only thing her drivers will be checking out in the rearview mirror is the other cars on the road.

That, says the director of Mumbai's For-She Travel and Logistics, is something that can only be guaranteed through a taxi service run by women, for women.

"If a woman looks at you, it really doesn't matter," she says. "There's a level of comfort any time of the day or night."

With over 50,000 taxis traversing Mumbai's crowded streets, very few have women behind the wheel. Roy says women riding alone are often made to feel uncomfortable by ogling drivers who paying them unwanted attention. Further, harassment on public transportation has reached a point where signs have been placed on trains reminding patrons that it's a criminal offense.

That's when Roy came up with the idea of starting a taxi company "as an initiative towards empowerment of women."

"When we got started, we thought we should do something different. This niche was available in the market," she says. "We have a lot of women, children and young girls."

The first women-only taxi service surfaced in the United Kingdom in 2005. Inspired by its lead, For-She began operations in Mumbai while similar services got off the ground in cities like Moscow, Beirut and Puebla, Mexico.

Some were initiated due to unwanted leering or flirting. For other cities, the situation was more concerning. In Moscow specifically, the city's cab company was started after reports that a number of women had been assaulted while taking cabs home late at night.

In each of these cities, a women-only cab service was meant to offer comfort that went beyond seating.

"When the owner of the company visited Thailand, she got the idea because a guide helped her by showing her around the city," says Muriel, the call-center operator for Beirut's Nayaghi Banet Taxi. "The guide was a lady and she felt much more comfortable. Now, we find the customers feel safer, too."

While each service pledges to stand up for women's rights, many say that segregation is really only a band-aid solution. Rather than addressing harassment or violence against women head-on, the burden of protection is placed on women while perpetuating stereotypes that they are defenseless.

On top of this, in countries like Iran where women are already segregated in many facets of society, the women-only taxi service has been criticized for reinforcing the laws of the oppressive regime.

But, for Roy, For-She is not just about ensuring her customers have a safe ride - it's about empowering her female drivers.

"Driving is my passion," she explains. "It was my love for driving which started everything."

When Roy recruits new, women drivers, it's that same love of being behind the wheel of a car that Roy seeks. Through a job at For-She, she hopes this will be a source of economic empowerment.

For-She has now expanded to include a driving school as part of its operations. The women entering the program are trained in motor skills and rules of the road. As well as, they are given classes in first aid and martial arts so that they are "capable of defending themselves and the women passengers in the hour of need."

"First, we look for an ability, an aptitude to drive," says Roy. "Then, we try them out. The course is three months and then they can make 3000 rupees (C$68) per week."

For-She has expanded from Mumbai to include services in Delhi with proposed projects in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Kolkata. That way Roy hopes to empower a few more female drivers across the country as well as ensure that more eyes stay on the road and off the passengers.