International Women’s Day: The biggest challenge for women entering logistics – Karina Bhasin, COO, Even Cargo explains

Most jobs remain male-dominated; there are few or no female managers who can ensure that gender-inclusive decisions are made for the safety and well-being of female employees.

The Indian economy has shown a substantial recovery and its growth is promising for the coming years. However, the realities on the ground differ in the case of labor participation of almost half of India’s population. Female labor force participation in India was the lowest in South Asia, at just 24%. Although there are many reasons that prevent women from joining the labor market, the lack of mobility and skills remain predominant.

There are various opportunities for women in the logistics and transport sector that will not only increase their income but also their social, cultural and educational outcomes. Social enterprises like Even Cargo, an all-female delivery platform, are trying to bring more women into unconventional professions like logistics while helping them reclaim their space in public. The company trains women to drive two or three wheels, helps them acquire the vehicle and recruits them on major e-commerce platforms as riders. Tarun Bhardwaj of FinancialExpress.com speak with Karina Bhasin, COO of Even Cargo on the challenges and opportunities of integrating women in the logistics and transport sector. Excerpts:

What are the different challenges women face or the main barriers to women entering the logistics sector?

Mobility is a major challenge for women in India who continue to walk to work or rely on unsafe and unreliable modes of public transport. The logistics industry has many roles, but the most common role is that of delivery agents who move packages between points and deliver goods on two-wheelers. Basic skills like driving a two- or three-wheeler allow women to enter various roles, not only in logistics, but also in other market sectors.

Another barrier to entry for women has been vehicle ownership – most dispatch riders who work with major e-commerce platforms have their own vehicle. Vehicle ownership for women is a challenge as they have relatively fewer sources of income. Additionally, financial institutions remain ambivalent about investing in providing affordable loans to low-income communities. Often, the down payment for these vehicles remains unaffordable for women. Obtaining a driver’s license is a huge obstacle for most motorcyclists who do not have the documents required to acquire a license.

The biggest challenge for women entering logistics has been the workplace itself. Warehouses and shipping posts lack women’s toilets, rest areas and dimly lit public spaces, making it less conducive for women to work. Moreover, most jobs remain male-dominated; there are few or no female managers who can ensure that gender-inclusive decisions are made for the safety and well-being of female employees.

What is Even Cargo’s business model as a 100% female third-party logistics service? How does this help women get loans to buy two-wheelers?

Even Cargo identifies women from resource-poor communities and conducts a needs assessment based on the skills matrix of each groomed future rider. They follow different training modules in driving, logistics, self-defense and employability. After examination, the young women are then inducted into e-commerce businesses as riders to deliver packages. The Even Cargo model offers female riders flexible schedules so they can balance household chores and responsibilities.

To ensure the retention of female riders, Even Cargo also organizes specific programs that include regular meetings, professional development sessions and seminars on stress management and work-life balance. In addition, Even Cargo has made a significant contribution to the construction of infrastructure for delivery women. Thanks to our efforts, the shipping warehouses are equipped with attached women’s toilets, female warehouse managers, SOS buttons and CCTV cameras.

In terms of financing, the company accompanies and accompanies women bikers at each stage for the acquisition of bicycles or scooters. Our main motivation was for the bikers to have full ownership of the vehicles. Initially, female riders earn an income for one or two months from rented bikes provided by Even Cargo. Once they have saved enough money to pay the down payment, Even Cargo provides a breakdown of leasing, renting and buying vehicles with relevant costs and benefits from each supplier.

The company also connects women with vehicle financing options and institutions that require less than 15% of the down payment for new vehicles and very minimal EMIs. It also ensures stable employment for the driver until the end of the loan.

To bridge the gap between women bikers and credit providers, Even Cargo supports by becoming the guarantee or risk insurer of financial organizations while offering loans to women bikers.

Karina Bhasin, COO of Even Cargo

What are the eligibility criteria for women who can join Even Cargo to become delivery workers?

Any woman over the age of 18 who knows how to ride a bicycle can enroll in the training program to become a delivery agent.

How does Even Cargo equip female delivery agents with the knowledge required to work in the logistics industry?

Even Cargo offers women four training modules which include:

A) Two-wheeler training programs

b) “Safety of Self” program which includes self-defense sessions by trained and experienced instructors

c) Specific logistics training

d) Employability skills training: which includes a session on communication and professional etiquette

The training program lasts more than 30 to 45 days during which the company also helps women acquire the necessary documents, driving licenses and financing options for the acquisition of bicycles or scooters.

Elaborate on the demographics from where Even Cargo is mobilizing women to join the logistics workforce? Is there a lack of confidence that women have in joining a blue collar workforce that is predominantly male? How does Even Cargo encourage or reassure women and their family members?

Even Cargo’s user demographics consist of women from low-income communities who reside in Tier I and Tier II cities.

Yes, there is definitely a confidence deficit that women have when they join the blue collar workforce. Most women feel intimidated by large swathes of male employees who often dominate these professions. Even Cargo helps women maintain their confidence as riders by offering socio-economic packages designed for women who want to enter the logistics industry. We understand the challenges and obstacles of each woman we recruit and provide them with individual support. For their families, Even Cargo organizes parenting and family sessions with family members of the rider to help them understand the need for gender parity at home and in the workplace.

Are there any case studies of women from Even Cargo who had to overcome personal challenges in order to build a stable career as riders?

Each rider carries her own set of struggles and opponents. One cannot ignore the fact that women in low-income communities often remain burdened with household responsibilities coupled with an innate desire to lighten the economic burden of the family. Sweety, an Even Cargo pilot based in Nagpur, was riddled with mountains of debt and the challenges of a broken marriage. She decided not to be a victim and to change things and take charge of her own life. With accumulated debts, monthly rents, grocery expenses, she was on a mission to find a way to support herself. Driven to excel, she approached Even Cargo seeking employment as a delivery partner. We provided him with all the necessary training and soon things were in motion. Today, Sweety is a self-taught woman, even doubling as a supervisor in Nagpur. She has the courage as well as the wheels to support herself to pave her way in life.

What are your plans for the future as an all-female social enterprise?

We look forward to realizing our mission to increase women’s participation in the labor market in India while empowering women to reclaim public spaces. We understand the important role women play in sustaining the environment and the ongoing electric vehicle revolution in the country. To this end, Even Cargo is working this year on the construction of an electric fleet reserved for women. We are also in the process of expanding our operations and will launch our fleet at full capacity in Mumbai and Hyderabad. To diversify our activities, we will venture into the delivery of large shipments, food and pharmaceutical products. In fact, we also plan to bring female rickshaw drivers on the road. We believe and hope that this initiative will accelerate progress on our mission to bring more women into public spaces with equal access to dignified livelihoods.

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