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Of gender, weight and costs


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Low-cost Indian airline GoAir recently indicated how far it was prepared to go to cut costs.

In an interview, a top GoAir official said they had decided to stop hiring male pursers and would, instead, only take on board women air hostesses as they weighed less.

The airline’s argument appears to be that since a woman weighs less, and flying is all about weight and saving on fuel costs, male pursers will no longer be hired by the airline!

“The rupee's fall has hurt the industry badly. All major expenses — aircraft leasing, spare parts and fuel costs — are linked to the dollar. The fall in exchange rate of a rupee costs us Rs 30 crore on an annual basis. We are looking at every possible way of cost-cutting to remain profitable,” GoAir CEO Giorgio De Roni told the Times of India newspaper.

Not everyone agrees with this argument, which raises more questions than it answers.

“They should talk about weight, not about sex. Do women come in one body size? They don’t. Is the airline saying they will not hire anyone more than 42 kilos?” asked Madhu Mehra, Director, Partners for Law in Development, a Delhi-based advocacy group on gender issues.

Mehra is also of the opinion that the airline’s move to close doors to male pursers is a violation of fundamental rights guaranteed in the Indian Constitution – the right to equal opportunity in matters of employment.

The airline’s website also points to other ways in which it’s trying to cut costs – these include the installation of sharklets on wing tips of aircraft, which improve the aerodynamics of Airbus aircraft.

One is also not sure why the airline is limiting itself to male flight pursers. If they want to take this to a logical conclusion, then they should exclude male pilots as well. Surely, they also “weigh” more than female pilots?

While the GoAir issue relates to the intentions of a private company, there are a host of complex gender issues in India that are not getting the attention they deserve.

Take, for instance, the Delhi Metro’s response to the high levels of violence against women in Delhi. Authorities have reserved a coach in every metro train for women.

There’s little doubt that women feel more secure in these coaches, where they aren’t subject to molestation, crude remarks or ogling.

But what does it do for larger society? Is separating women from men the answer to the issue of women’s safety and security in public spaces?

Actually, our State and society just don’t have the answers to the many troubling questions.

Segregation in a metro train is an easy, short-term solution. Integrating women and men into an equal relationship is a tough one.

The State can still be held accountable, but what about private companies like GoAir, which will take bizarre, discriminatory steps to deal with financial loss?

Who’s going to hold these people accountable?

In the drive to turnaround a company and take the balance-sheet into the black, corporate honchos can do anything.

Including, excluding an entire gender from employment opportunities.

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Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan. He tweets @abaruah64.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (12) Closed

Tahir A Jul 01, 2013 01:59pm

Hi Amit,

I'll tell you where weight would be a great asset as an employee.

Have a look at all the maulvis of the Pakistani Ulemah. They are all grossly over-weight with seemingly impressive BMI's. Not a bad job to get either but I think women are not eligible - at least for the time being.

Rupak Jul 01, 2013 04:00pm

Soon airlines will be setting passenger rates on a per-kilo basis.

Frequent Flyer Jul 01, 2013 04:05pm

PIA air hostess weigh more the normal Male and female combined so what will be the solution

Cool Monk Jul 01, 2013 04:47pm

@Rupak: This is an established practice, nothing wrong. If you weigh more, you pay more. I don't see any reason why travellers who weigh less pick up the tab for those who don't.

Avtar Jul 01, 2013 05:30pm

Some airlines already set fares by passenger weight. Airlines,using smaller aircraft, serving some of the pacific islands already charge by passenger and luggage weight. The sub-continent's people need not worry nor should the people of Southeast Asia as they are small and generally do weigh less than an average American or European.

Abbas Jul 01, 2013 07:10pm

@Rupak: In fact you are right, it has already stared in US, I just don't remember the name. Where they are charging from the passenger having more than average weight :-)

Threshold Jul 01, 2013 08:18pm

my thinking is this so if this airline is low cost airline so i think is loss airline because . this airline has not a goood . One Of This Airline NUmber 1 Is Emirates i Love Emirates! Thanks For Sharing !

Tariq Jul 01, 2013 10:57pm

Samoa Airline already charges passengers by their body weight!

Regnorak Jul 02, 2013 01:24am

An open question, is Pakistan really in a position to comment on the ills in Indian society? Pakistan is now reeling under instability, a very low Forex reserve, terrorism, bigotry, poverty, illiteracy, rampant atrocities against minority and women, very low international reputation, unstable government, stagnant growth, almost zero tourism and foreign investment, illiteracy, a Shariah rule that oppresses women. To top it all Pakistan is not even a democracy. India is not doubt not a perfect nation but for Pakistan to criticize India would be extreme audacity, it is like a illiterate man making fun of Einstein.

illawarrior Jul 02, 2013 08:10am

I can understand an airline being concerned about weight issues, however, I fail to see how this can be turned into a gender issue. Both genders come in all shapes and sizes. If the issue is weight, then restrict the jobs to people within the required weight range, irrespective of gender.

Romulus Jul 02, 2013 07:25pm

@illawarrior: Hopefully their pilots are still selected based on competence rather than on weight.

Muhammad Awais Jul 03, 2013 12:23am

How can an airline being thoughtful about the weight issues. This show that Indian airlines are not running well or India is trying to be tricky as is always do in every aspect. Gender and weight are not issues logically.