DiDi’s Hitch tool is re-launching with a curfew for female passengers. (Reuters: Carlos Barria)
China’s largest ride-hailing service, DiDi, is copping a backlash for a new safety policy which bans women from using one of its popular services at night.
- Two women were murdered by their Hitch drivers in China last year
- The company says it will restrict women from using the service after 8:00pm
- Chinese feminists say it’s humiliating and the company should focus on women’s safety
The multi-billion-dollar tech giant is relaunching its low-cost Hitch service with a new 8:00pm cut-off for female passengers.
Men are free to use the service until 11:00pm under the new rules.
The curfew was implemented in response to several sexual assaults and the murders of two women last year — cases which shocked the nation.
Hitch pairs drivers and passengers heading in the same direction. The passenger does not pay for the ride but is encouraged to tip to cover petrol.
In May 2018, a 21-year-old flight attendant was murdered by her driver in the city of Zhengzhou.
According to Chinese state media, the alleged killer took his own life before he was caught.
DiDi suspended Hitch for six weeks to overhaul the service, removing women’s photos from their profiles and making facial recognition compulsory for drivers.
DiDi’s Hitch service paired up commuters to carpool when heading in the same direction. (Reuters: Jason Lee)
But several months later, a 20-year-old woman known only by her last name, Zhao, texted a friend saying she needed help while using Hitch’s service.
Her driver was arrested days later, and he told police he had raped and stabbed her.
In August this year, the man was sentenced to death by a Chinese court.
DiDi again suspended the service — this time for more than a year — vowing to make it safer for women.
Hitch’s curfew ‘totally humiliating for women’
The 8:00pm cut-off is one of many measures that DiDi has claimed will help restore confidence in the safety of its services.
But it has triggered anger among women and drawn calls for boycotts online.
Beijing-based feminist activist Li Maizi said Hitch’s curfew is humiliating for women, who just want to get around safely. (Instagram: Li Maizi)
“It’s gender discrimination of course, and totally humiliating for women,” said Li Maizi, a prominent feminist activist in Beijing.
“High-level commercial leaders in China, they don’t have a concept about gender equality.”
DiDi, which was recently valued at an estimated $87 billion, was riding high prior to the safety problems, having ousted rival Uber from the Chinese market.
But two murders of its customers within 100 days plunged the company into crisis.
“The idea that a woman could be raped or even murdered when she orders a car, it’s a real danger,” said Xiao Meili, another prominent women’s rights advocate.
“We can see from DiDi’s policy that society doesn’t want women to go out, but now a lot of people are standing up and demanding their right to travel in the evening.”
China’s state media has even weighed in, with a social media post from the Communist Party’s outlet People’s Daily questioning if preventing women from going out is really the best way to ensure safety.
@billbirtles People’s Daily asking whether Didi’s efforts to relaunch its Hitch ride service with a rule that bars women from using it after 8pm.
But DiDi has defended the curfew.
The company said the evening restriction measure is part of a seven-city trial.
It is also rolling out a women’s safety program that will allow passengers to access detailed information about drivers.
Hitch says the curfew is being trialled in several Chinese cities, and is among several measures aimed at protecting women. (Reuters: Damir Sagolj)
DiDi, which also operates in Australia, has previously offered other safety measures including an update that allows the app to record audio during a trip.
And while its latest measure is controversial, feminists said it was unlikely to derail the company’s dominance in its home market.
“I’ve seen so many people express anger and opposition to this decision, but the people I follow are all plugged in to these gender issues,” said Xiao Meili.
“I don’t really know if people beyond these circles care that much.”
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