Planning Ph.D. Student Wins Engaged Cornell Grant to Research Women's Safety Using Public Transport in India

May 3, 2018

Seema Singh, a second-year city and regional planning Ph.D. student, won a $14,990 Engaged Cornell grant for her project, Safe Mobility for Women, which aims to investigate the key safety issues faced by women using public transport in Panchkula, a city in north India.

Engaged Cornell provides graduate-level grants for students to research or complete work directly related to their community-centered doctoral dissertations, and to develop strategies to incorporate community-engaged learning into their existing research and scholarship.

With her research, Singh is looking into how women access, experience, and use public transport in India.

"My broader dissertation is about mainstreaming women's concerns in transport planning and policy-making in the Indian context," Singh said. "Increasing issues of safety and security on public transport and roads in India limit or restrain women's mobility. It is important to better understand how women negotiate mobility on a daily basis and the key challenges they face when doing so."

Panchkula is a northern Indian city with more than half a million residents and is currently conducting safety audits and field surveys to better serve its entire population.

Singh will utilize the Engaged Cornell grant to travel to India and observe what policies and planning processes already account for women's needs, and how different stakeholders in the project on the city and state levels are attempting to tackle the problem.

"Transport has traditionally been planned as a gender-neutral subject, but over time we have realized that women and men have different needs, different concerns when they are traveling," Singh explained. For example, men tend to follow linear paths from home to work and back again, while women have more complex travel patterns known as "trip chaining," which may involve taking children to school or buying groceries.

Ultimately, if a transportation system is only satisfying the needs of 50 percent of its population, it is operating inefficiently, in addition to potentially neglecting safety concerns, Singh said.

This summer and following winter, Singh will visit to India to join the safety audit. She will work with Navdeep Asija, a road and safety consultant and the traffic advisor for the state of Punjab; Panchkula's city municipal corporation; and an NGO called Safetipin to conduct field surveys.

Singh hopes to understand how the organizations collaborate and conceptualize women's concerns in the context of Panchkula. In the future, Singh plans to conduct further research in other cities in Haryana and Punjab.

Singh's thesis committee members in CRP include Professor Michal Tomlan, Professor Mildred Warner, and Assistant Professor Nicholas Klein.

By Jennifer Wholey

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