Changing job profiles and an expanding city have meant that women have to travel longer distances, sometimes alone and at nights. Problems are compounded as only a few hostels accommodate women who work at night.

According to an estimate by the International Facility Managers Association, around 5,000 working women in the IT and the ITES companies travel between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. daily. Some travel as much as 40 km one way, says the administrative head of an IT company in Perungudi.

While big companies follow a transport policy to ensure that women employees do not have to travel alone, women admit that they need training to tackle unpleasant situations. Hostellers are encouraged to ask for an escort if they need.

Though companies offer awareness programmes, the varied background of the women employees is a deterrent, says the official.

Assistant Commissioner of Police, Ashok Nagar, K.N. Murali agrees that vulnerability, inability to anticipate attack and lack of knowledge of their rights often lead to unpleasant situations. “Under Section 100 of the Indian Penal Code, you have the right of self-defence. We conducted a campaign in Thoraipakkam to educate women on the use of pepper spray to ward off attackers and many of them are buying it now,” he says.

Yohini Natarajan, who carries a can of the spray, says having it in her bag gives her confidence though she has not used it yet. She admits that it requires presence of mind to fend off an attacker.

The trend of self-defence is yet to catch up. Though classes in martial arts such as judo, karate, kickboxing, kung-fu, krav maga and kalari payutu are offered in the city, only a few take them.

S. Sreeja recalls being attacked by a drunkard on the stairs of an MRTS station. She escaped by using Krav Maga self-defence techniques that her father S.Sreeram had taught her. Even objects like pen, kerchief and handbag can help, she says. “A normal person is shocked when attacked but trained person is assertive. We must live for ourselves, if we cannot protect ourselves who else will?” she asks.

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