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Of gender, weight and costs

Updated July 01, 2013

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.