In Nairobi, smoking zones are seeing an absence of women. The five smoking zones that are present in the city centre are all are filled with men puffing away. Women in Nairobi find it uncomfortable to go into the smoking zones – they feel that it isn’t safe to do so. Women also get these ‘looks’ from the men when they try and approach the smoking zones. The brave ladies who do go into smoke are commercial sex workers, as they scout for their clients.
The men often judge the women on a “moral scale” because they smoke. Many women have to hide and smoke, or go into secluded lanes and do so, again which is not very safe. However, this is an all too familiar situation.
Even in India, women smoking in public purview are stared at and commented on. Somehow, if you are a female and you smoke, you are not morally ‘right’.
Sanjana*, 26, has been smoking regularly since she was 22. She tells us, “Living in a city like Bangalore, when I smoked in the outskirts, all these auto-wallahs would stare at me. Now that I live in the city centre, I think that people are used to it. However, last week an auto-wallah tried to school me telling me that if I smoke, people will think I’m loose and that I should get married and have kids. I just laughed it off.”
If you visit pubs and bars often, you will see that there are a lot of women who smoke now. Women are realising that they don’t need permission, and they don’t need to care about being value judged.
“I used to care before, people have told me all kinds of things and people have stared at me for smoking – but I just cannot be bothered anymore.” – Priya*
Priya*, a 29-year-old chain smoker tells us, “I used to care before, people have told me all kinds of things and people have stared at me for smoking – but I just cannot be bothered anymore, I know smoking is a bad habit and I am trying to quit, but it’s my life and you can’t tell me what to do and what not to do.” She adds that her male friends are open minded, “Thankfully my friends don’t judge me… I guess if they did, I wouldn’t be friends with them.”
I am not advocating smoking. Smoking is injurious to the health of men and women both. However, for those women who choose to smoke are aware of the consequences, but they should be able to do so peacefully without their morality being judged or given the so-called ‘looks’.
* – names changed on request
Pic credits: Third Force News
Views are the author’s own.