Reclaiming Public Spaces For Women In India
Women face discrimination when it comes to safe public spaces. Safecity organised a photo exhibition and panel discussion during Global Anti- Street Harassment Week to deconstruct the crucial linkages between the freedom to travel and roam, and gendered violence in our session titled: ‘Reclaiming public spaces: Challenges in local transport” in Mumbai. We focussed on local transportation such as autorickshaws, trains, taxis and buses as the sites for both commuting and often sexual violence. We wanted to, thus, explore ideas on the social constructions of mobility and gender for our event.
Safecity aims to make cities safer by encouraging equal access to public spaces for everyone especially women. This would be through the use of crowd-sourced data and technology, community engagement and institutional accountability. Our effort was an extension of this conversation to make public spaces accessible for gender minorities.
The event comprised of two parts: an exhibition and panel discussion. For the exhibition, Safecity’s Program and Outreach Officer, Devina Buckshee, and fashion stylist and lawyer, Ojas Kolvankar, joined hands to put together an exclusive ‘Reclaiming City Spaces’ photo exhibit that was produced by Hereafter Productions. It explored ideas of freedom and equality as we looked at the lack of reporting for the gamut of sexual harassment faced by gender and sexual minorities while travelling.
As part of the discovered stories of acceptance and of resistance as we roamed across the city in all the modes of public transport offered in Mumbai. We attempted to take our audience and you, our readers, on a journey of the everyday woman/women traveller and notice all the categories of harassment at every part of her journey. We especially wanted to highlight the omnipresence of sexual harassment, and the way it is normalized and come to be almost expected. Our photo series highlighted the commuting challenges specific to these everyday Mumbaikar women.
We discussed the linkages between private and public violence, and the importance of discourse centered on rights and leisure, rather than one couched in safety and protectionism. The audience was extremely interactive as they pushed for discussions around the validity of the ‘Ladies section’ in trains and buses, to addressing men and boys for gender equality, to raising feminist parents!
As a part of the event, we also highlighted the Report of the recent Safecity Policy Project for Railway Stations in Mumbai led by our Policy and Legal Officer, Vandita Morarka, along with a team of interns and volunteers. This project had stemmed from reports of harassment at railway stations in Mumbai that came up though interactions with individuals, volunteers and on our crowd map. It was a phased project that audited three railway stations to understand the nature of sexual harassment and the ways in which we can address it. Our report is available in the format of a PDF that can be downloaded here.
Our event thus evoked discussions on the daily lack of comfort, security and freedom to loiter, and aimed to educate and elevate our collective voices. It was attended by around 30 participants from colleges such as Jai Hind and GLC, to TISS ICALL representatives. This event will also kick start an ongoing series on reclaiming spaces in our city.
Written By Devina Buckshee. She is the Program and Outreach Officer at Safecity. She is a recent MA (hons) graduate of Sociology and International Relations from the University of Edinburgh.