Woman and the City

A lone woman.Walking down a deserted, dark street at night.With broken pavements. By now you’re primed to hear about a crime or attempt at one, right? Let’s try another one. A lone woman.Walking down a well-lit, populated street at night, with broad sidewalks.The image it conjures is totally different. Whether or not we make a conscious connection between the two, the fact remains that there is a very close link between our urban environment and the manner in which urban spaces are utilised and safety. Gender safety, in fact, is a great entry point to study this, since women are particularly vulnerable to acid attacks, kidnapping and sexual assault in large Indian cities, particularly in the Delhi NCR. A recent study in Kerala reported here also busts the common myth that women are treated better in public spaces “down South”.
Simple things make a huge difference. For instance, in a safety audit conducted by several groups in Gurgaon a couple of months ago, it was discovered that there were no operational street lights on MG Road for a nearly 3km stretch, dubbed the “Mall Mile”. Few of the pavements were usable, denying an escape to relative safety for a woman on foot, forcing her to use the same road from which she can be dragged into a passing car. And so on.
A simple fix: usable pavements of the correct width and height and operational streetlights, can create a far larger measure of safety for women frequenting this stretch. There are, of course, other issues to be dealt with, chief amongst which is the difference between private security and public safety. Indians who can afford it, tend to concentrate on the former and don’t bother about the latter. It is the already marginalised who are left to bear the burden of increasing privatisation of security – particularly in cities like Gurgaon where the private security guards outnumber the police force by as much as five times – which translates into reduced public safety. This interesting piece by RakaChoudhury throws more light on the paradox.
Apart from fixing the obvious, like streetlights and pavements, we need to call for a conscious rethinking of our cities from the perspective of all, rather than the privileged few who feel that “good walls make good neighbours” and build them ever higher.
Encouraging beginnings have been made in transportation at least. Admittedly, though only for the privileged, Sakha Cabs offers the services of women for women and was featured in Aamir Khan’s popular TV show on social issues in the episode on violence against women. In various parts of the NCR groups like Jagori, Gurgaon Girlcott, IUDI, Let’s Walk Gurgaon, Saksham Gurgaon and others are campaigning for a safer city through public spaces.
We wish them all the very best 


Niiti consulting partners with Gurgaon Girlcott and Jagori for its Gender in the City campaign and is in the process of formalising an MoU with Jagori. Richa Dubey works with niiti consulting and started the Gurgaon Girlcott campaign
A history graduate from Delhi University who believes in “more is less”. Richa loves writing on a wide spectrum of topics from textiles to Sufism to technology. She has anchored web communications at Cisco India, led public affairs for a prospective national innovation university on urbanization, and is presently building an advocacy strategy for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative’s India office. In her 16 year career in communications, she also has dabbled as a content specialist for print, new media and television. Richa is also a self-confessed textile lover and a voracious reader.

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