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May 17, 2021 12:35 PM   Subscribe

"For Indian women, rideshare apps are a lifeline: Six Indian women describe how rideshare apps have transformed their lives", in Rest of World, by Chandni Doulatramani. "The ubiquity of rideshare cabs has had a lasting impact on the urban-dwelling women of India, with ripple effects reaching stay-at-home moms, workers, and college students." (For folks who are wondering: Uber Moto gives the passenger a motorcycle ride.)
posted by brainwane (31 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Rest of World (.org!) is bald-faced propaganda about how Big Tech is improving the lives of the poors around the world. It is the pet project of Sophie Schmidt, billionaire daughter of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. more

They pad out their site with wire service articles about any legit tech news around the world, but their editorial slant is quite clear: Cryptocurrencies are the future!, App-based employment is better than minimum wage or unions!, un-moderated social networks are best!

I worry about anyone who reads them uncritically as a primary news source, and I don't think we need yet another take from the billionaire class on MeFi.
posted by Anoplura at 1:27 PM on May 17 [32 favorites]

The fact that rideshare apps don't consistently create localized translations of their apps for the markets that they bully themselves into says so much.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:00 PM on May 17 [5 favorites]

Hi, Anoplura. Thanks for your comment.

I acknowledge that Rest Of World was started and is self-funded by Sophie Schmidt. I have regardless found several pieces on Rest of World useful and informative, such as this piece on loans that hijack your phone, this piece on the WhatsApp privacy change rollout, and this piece on fact-checking in India. Several pieces have been critical of the big platforms (example), and called for better moderation of those platforms.

I've been reading them for several months and I haven't seen the reused wire service articles; could you please point to a few?

I also wish to note that none of the six women interviewed in this piece are billionaires, and invite you to make a front page post, linking to a different news source, that focuses on how ride-hailing apps affect women in India. I am definitely interested in hearing further stories!
posted by brainwane at 2:02 PM on May 17 [13 favorites]

Mod note: Leaving the first comment because it's been replied to, but please work on keeping your comments in line with the guidelines and be respectful of your fellow MeFites.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:05 PM on May 17 [6 favorites]

I liked these snapshots of women's lives. The availability of a wide range of transportation options in India clearly is important to many folks. I too prefer the apps over a yellow cab because at least I have some record of who picked me up in what car.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:07 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]

I'm really surprised that after all this time these apps are still English-only in India (and presumably everywhere else).

Companies are bringing in billions of dollars of revenue in the region and while sure, lots of Indian people handle English fine, it seems like a pretty straightforward way to drive more revenue by doing some localization work.
posted by GuyZero at 2:08 PM on May 17

As far as I can gather, Ola is available in several languages in India, and Uber is available in several languages in many countries but is English-only in India, and is in the process of rolling out multiple Indic languages for use by Indian customers. That article is from multiple years ago and it seems hard for me to figure out what languages are currently available. MeFites in India who use Uber, can you tell us?
posted by brainwane at 2:42 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]

To continue on my slightly-too-snippy first comment, what bugs me about ride-sharing is that I think there are so many problems (driver's labor, traffic, rider safety) that I think they could really improve the world in positive ways. I found the stories of these women very interesting, but seeing the ways that the apps can help only makes me all that more frustrated with their many problematic issues.

(As someone who was car-less and taking a partner to the hospital when Uber was starting out in Chicago on a street where getting a cab outside my apartment was improbable, they were invaluable, especially in the winter; I avoid it now as much as possible, but I wish they were better so I did't have to.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:58 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]

Not having to haggle over the price of a trip is such a game-changer for me. I have had a similar experience living in East Africa. Drivers at the taxi stand would not take me across town for the going rate, because I look like a foreigner and so I must be fair game for fleecing. By that point I had been living there for a year and knew all the prices, but nope, they wanted to charge me more. I just felt so trapped and it triggered my anxiety each time I had to take a taxi. So I stayed home as much as I could. Once ride-hailing apps showed up, they gave me so much freedom.

What's interesting though is that clearly Uber does not have a higher safety standard, but the idea/illusion of safety still attracts them more customers. Just the idea of, oh I have their name and license # even though Uber doesn't do anything with the safety complaints... the passengers still say having that information gave them a sense of security.

Also interesting how many of them said taking Uber is a status symbol, and that they wouldn't take a yellow taxi as it's embarrassing.

I did get a woman driver for Uber one time, and I thought it was so cool. I texted her the week after to see if she could take me again to the same recurring appointment. She said she was in New York (?) for some promotion thing of Uber rolling out in the country, and specifically there to raise the profile of women drivers.
posted by tinydancer at 3:21 PM on May 17 [13 favorites]

MCMikeNamara, is it that hard to admit that a whole nation's women can be liberated in some small way by admittedly evil capitalist corporations? Must our definition of evil mean always evil, unremittingly evil, universally evil... so that it feels threatening to us to admit any good that an evil corporation might have done?

If you aren't even a woman in India (not that it would suffice), you don't get to dismiss these women's experiences and turn their stories into merely your soapbox to stand on while you denounce capitalism for being always unremittingly universally evil. The least their stories ought to do is get you to frame your comments here as, "Wow, I wonder how their problems could have been solved without this evil," i.e. *keeping the focus on them and their issues, not yours.*
posted by MiraK at 4:23 PM on May 17 [19 favorites]

You guys forgot the Stranger.
posted by groda at 5:36 PM on May 17

MiraK, I agree that we should be centering Indian women's experiences. I think the problem is compounded by the fact that the women's stories in the posted article are from a propaganda source, and there is unfortunately a long history of Western capitalists pushing self-serving propaganda like this, from the British Raj on. My other reservation is from questioning *which* women's experiences are being centered. Maid servants do not get to access this form of transportation, nor do slum residents. The move toward privatization of all services, rather than improving public infrastructure and safety, means cementing these divides.
posted by splitpeasoup at 6:30 PM on May 17 [8 favorites]

IDK why indian women's liberation is held to higher standards than anyone else's in order to be validated as real and worthwhile.

Yeah, more than half of the population of India can never afford an Ola probably. Does this mean the other half's liberation is worthless and doesn't count and should only be dismissed, never discussed?

Yeah, this liberation comes to us tainted by the poison of capitalism. Can we name *any* other group of people's liberation in the last 100 years that's free of it? Is *everyone* else's liberation to be lamented as worthless, or just Indian women's?

I lived my childhood in India. I keep forgetting how bad it is for women there. Even just the few months I've spent there as an adult have been suffocating after the freedom and autonomy I've gotten used to in the US. None of y'all who are casually brushing these women's stories aside seem to understand or care what life has been like for them - but I know it, bone deep. Reading some of these stories brought me close to tears. Especially the one about the mother and daughter pair, idk why. There was something so everyday and familiar in each of these stories.... it crushes me to know what my life could have been, what my cousins' and aunties' and my mom's life IS.

I feel like I'm an old woman lecturing a bunch of young girls about how much y'all take for granted, except I'm not old and you're not young. You just have no idea what living conditions are like even for privileged Indian women. Today, right now, these women are living out their stories, and I'm here to say: it bears meditating upon, those stories deserve your curiosity, those women deserve your attention and empathy. It's hard to read people sneer at these stories, especially when we do so through such a decidedly western lens.

We can't be dismissing them all out of hand as "privileged ladies, bah" when the people dismissing them are FAR more privileged. That's got real "Dear Muslimah" energy, you know? When a highly privileged person says to someone less privileged, "stop talking about your oppression when there's more oppressed people around you," how much does it matter whether they are saying it to create an opening for themselves to criticize capitalism, or to create an opening for themselves to criticize religion? Not much!!

And dismissing these stories by calling them propaganda just furthers the goal of keeping this conversation western-centric. In what way is it propaganda? How does it apply in the Indian context? When we think of ride-shares apps in the US, we think of workers being exploited and the externalizing of labor costs by corps via abuse of the gig economy - but that doesn't even remotely apply in India, so exactly what do you mean IN THIS CONTEXT by calling it propaganda? If you really want your comments to come across as keeping the focus on Indian workers and Indian women, you've got to move further than western-centric critiques of these stories. What's the history and the current reality of government infrastructure and services vs. private enterprise IN THE INDIAN CONTEXT? (Hint: It's not the same as in USA! It's complicated!) Maybe offer further discussion or articles or thoughts or links to what you might consider to be non-propaganda discussions of ride-shares in south Asia, you know?
posted by MiraK at 8:04 PM on May 17 [44 favorites]

There's nothing wrong with the service provided by the ride sharing apps. It's the fraudulent and predatory businesses behind them that are the problem. That there are people who are happy to tell you that the apps have improved their lives, even if you ignore survivorship bias, speaks more to the dire situations they were already in than any unique virtue of those apps. And there are better ways to help those people than software that helps the market more efficiently capture the surplus value those people could be producing that it might otherwise miss.
posted by Reyturner at 8:44 PM on May 17 [5 favorites]

speaks more to the dire situations they were already in than any unique virtue of those apps.

That ... is kinda the point, yes. Which someone in this thread has been trying to say, repeatedly.

More to the topic, the parallels between this and bicycles accidentally paving the way for women's rights are fascinating.

But, if a critique of capitalism is what's generally desired here then let's at least do it properly, hmm?

So, we'll start with a recap of the gegensätzliche bewegung in a capitalist economy, shall we? Who'll go first? Please do not use your Kautsky editions for this discussion please, Riazanov or later only if we may. After lunch we will examine the applicability of the Aristotle/Marx "self-acting automata" concepts in the context of early 21st century software design and industrial strategies.
posted by aramaic at 9:16 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]

(I'm from a diaspora, but not this diaspora.)

This is a by definition a western-centric venue: it's in English, on an English-language forum. A tinge of anxiety about how news from non-Anglophone countries get filtered and presented is not in itself unreasonable. People here are open-minded and inquisitive, but not necessarily well-versed enough in every culture or society to distinguish propaganda or clever marketing from lived experience and ground truths.

One possible solution is for the poster to ask specifically for the first N (10?) posts to be from people who have lived in the culture being reported on. Not to set them up as the sole authority, but perhaps to serve as a small sample for calibration.
posted by dum spiro spero at 9:28 PM on May 17

This is why we can't have nice things: because someone, somewhere, is only doing it for the money.

It kills me that appeals have to be made to the average commenter to consider context before rattling off their five minute hate, as if it's totally unbelievable that some people could find a good deal of value in a ride share app. I'm not a woman, and I've never been to India, and still I can see how a rideshare service can enhance the prosperity and quality of life of an Indian woman. How? Because I see it, among people I actually know, here in Los Angeles.

Ragging on capitalism is the foundation of this place. I might even get on board... if it wasn't almost always such lazy criticism, at best. And who am I kidding? A serious look at all the things I enjoy in life reveals that most of them are greatly enhanced by the engine of capitalism. I seriously doubt I'm alone here.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:14 PM on May 17 [8 favorites]

I have had a similar experience living in East Africa.

Srsly, one of my most mortifying memories is the time I basically shook down a Canadian cab driver after reflexively dropping into haggling following a year in Kenya...
posted by kaibutsu at 11:10 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]

I think there's a difference between discussing this with a focus on how capitalism is bad, and discussing the real women's problems that still remain to be solved. This article was very interesting, and the interviewees' voices came through really well. One talked about the language/technology issues that made her depend on others to book rides for her. One talked about how after a scary harassment incident that left her stranded in the street at night, she reported it to Uber and nothing happened. A few talked about not resorting to yellow cabs even when they needed one not because of fear of harassment, but because of fear of seeming low-status - a socially-imposed limitation alongside the greater freedom of rideshare apps. One talked about how Uber Go was still too expensive for her, while Uber Pool was affordable but always made her late. The article painted a complex picture, which seems legitimate to talk about.

(Maybe there were comments deleted that some of the remaining comments are responding to? Otherwise I don't see any big anti-capitalist critique in the initial comments; one comment says the news source is propaganda, and another acknowledges the apps' usefulness while expressing frustration about the problems they could solve but don't.)
posted by trig at 11:54 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]

I agree with anoplura's comment (first in the thread). I've always had my suspicions about that site and reading why is extremely helpful.

brainwane, none of the women interviewed are billionaires but there is a slant to the website that is unhelpful from the perspective of those who genuinely seek voices and opinions from 'the rest of the world'.

From my perspective of curating news from the African continent, the site and its content comes across as a whiff of saviordom.
posted by infini at 1:59 AM on May 18 [4 favorites]

I feel like I'm an old woman lecturing a bunch of young girls about how much y'all take for granted, except I'm not old and you're not young. You just have no idea what living conditions are like even for privileged Indian women. Today, right now, these women are living out their stories, and I'm here to say: it bears meditating upon, those stories deserve your curiosity, those women deserve your attention and empathy. It's hard to read people sneer at these stories, especially when we do so through such a decidedly western lens.

Also, this.

The trauma of moving to India after high school has never really left me, forever renewed whenever I visit. Only after turning grey and crossing age 50 did the daily life of getting around Delhi without being harassed diminished to the point of me noticing and wondering what and why it happened. Its gotten worse in the past 20 years.

Otoh, even ride hailing apps aren't safe. Nothing is safe in Delhi for a woman. India's the world's most dangerous country for being a woman, worse than any of the warzone countries.
posted by infini at 2:06 AM on May 18 [6 favorites]

infini: I trust you, I know that you have relevant domain expertise, and so I trust what you're saying about Rest of World's slant.

Recently when RoW celebrated its one-year anniversary I thought "hey, who supports this thing?" given that there's no "donate" links and they don't have a "thank you to the such-and-such foundation" footer or anything like that. So I poked around online and found out that it was entirely self-funded by founder Sophie Schmidt. I tried looking at the site again in that light but didn't see a worrisome slant, especially since (as I recall) in many cases the journalists writing the stories were in and from the countries being written about. I thought that I was seeing some stories that were critical of big platforms, and some that were thought-provoking "here is why and how many people outside North America/Western Europe/Australia/New Zealand are benefiting from (very suspect and flawed) platforms" pieces.

But I defer to your expertise here. It's disappointing, of course, since I was appreciating getting an English-language glimpse of people and places that I often don't learn enough about. It felt like the closest thing to an infini-cam I could get, showing me how people worldwide really live their economic lives and use and make technology. If you have some alternative recommendations I would deeply welcome them. I understand that it's unlikely that there will be good one-stop shops, in English, that cover lots of countries, so I'd particularly like to know who's covering (any parts of) South Asia and Africa in the way that I thought RoW was.
posted by brainwane at 3:08 AM on May 18 [5 favorites]

The Elephant stands out by a mile to fit your ask, brainwane, and thank you for the thoughtful comment. Its high time we made moves to connect more directly. I'll memail you.

AllAfrica is an aggregator of headlines from local papers and sources, rather than intermediated by a Western editorial or perspective.

And others, though not yet consistently at The Elephant's level, include Africa is a Country; definitely Techpoint.ng for tech and startup news, I know the founder who has now moved on to his next venture so I hesitate to put it at the same level as the elephant; Stearsng has been getting good reviews on their business analysis, primarily West Africa, How We Made it in Africa covers entrepreneur stories in a way nobody else does tbh. I'll add more if I recall, but these are my top of mind.

African twittersphere is also very on top of curating content from all over and in pushing back vociferously when faced with tone or slant of mainstream or otherwise content from outside the continent.
posted by infini at 5:08 AM on May 18 [13 favorites]

I enjoyed the article, and seeing a bit of women's lives in India. At then end there was a link to another article, with A rapidly growing Brazilian NFT market is offering creators a sustainable way to make a living which raised an alarm with me, a sblockchain is not at all sustainable, quite the opposite.

It's really difficult to have any sense at all of life in other countries, thanks for the links, infini.
posted by theora55 at 5:39 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

(My eyebrows jumped at that too, but supposedly Tezos, the specific blockchain algorithm in question, uses a different minting method that is not power-hungry. Then again Tezos doesn't say anything about sustainability on their webpage that I can see, and the article ROW links to is from Forbes, so grains of salt.)
posted by trig at 5:58 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

I am an Indian woman who lives in India and can vouch for how aggressively unsafe the country is for women - and it's not even limited to being outside the house. It's one of those things one has to just get used to not considering too closely, because how else are we supposed to carry on with our lives?
I understand Uber (and its homegrown cousin Ola) are not employee friendly (indeed, there have been several strikes/protests by the drivers on both platforms in the past over pay disputes). I tip and rate well because that's what I can do. What makes these platforms useful in spite of their obvious issues, as the article also states (and I'm amused that this article is based in Kolkata, my city of birth) is that they, on the whole, a heck of a lot reliable, comfortable and better at the point to point aspect of commuting, than any other public transport options - yellow cab refusal rates are notoriously high, buses are held together mostly by prayer and duct tape, metro services/local trains are extremely overcrowded (which has related safety issues - I defy you to find an Indian woman who has not been inappropriately touched/groped/leered at in public transport), and so on. If one can afford it, it's the best of a not a lot of great options. And in a setting where safety is a scant resource, we settle for the illusion of safety as the next best thing.
I checked my Uber app and there is no language option except English. However, I think driver partners do get the option to switch to Hindi at a minimum (I can't remember if I've spotted other Indian languages) for usage. Why it has not been extended to the customers yet, I have no idea.
posted by Nieshka at 7:20 AM on May 18 [11 favorites]

Nieshka and anyone else in India - do Uber and Ola have the same level of social cachet? People in the article were mostly talking about Uber, and I'm kind of cynically wondering whether Uber's lack of localization may in part be a form of gatekeeping or branding. (But I also live in a country where English mastery is a total status symbol, so I might be projecting.) Does Uber work better than Ola?
posted by trig at 7:43 AM on May 18

Uber is definitely seen as fancier than Ola. In my neck of the woods, Uber just works better - shows up more consistently, has better drivers and cars, has fewer billing issues and has a better designed app. I used both services for a long time and eventually gave up the one that had more hassles (I once had to email Ola 8 times to reverse a fare that was deducted twice from my credit card. I am...not a fan.)
That said, I know folks who prefer Ola in other cities because it's more easily available. And I wouldn't trust either of them to treat their 'driver partners' well.
Oh, and English as a status symbol is most definitely a thing in India too.
posted by Nieshka at 8:17 AM on May 18 [4 favorites]

I wonder if the tectonic shift in women's labour patterns, thanks to the advent of the washing machine (made by capitalists who treated labour like shit, natch), is perceived differently because it happened in the West a couple of generations ago.

(My grandmother's washboard is now a quaint curio. I'm pretty sure she considered her washing machine an unalloyed good.)

* Disclaimer: I, too, hate Uber but only in the abstract, since economic and geographic privilege free me from its grasp.
posted by klanawa at 10:40 AM on May 18

Mod note: One comment deleted. There is no need to make this thread about yourself. Even if it is to apologize. It might be better take to step back and let the conversation move on. Please check the Microaggressions section if you have any questions.
posted by loup (staff) at 1:46 PM on May 18

I like this article and found it educational. Thanks for posting, brainwane.
posted by Xany at 5:33 PM on May 18

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