How safe are women in our cities and how can women reclaim the urban spaces that are denied to them? What needs to be done, what are the lacunae in urban planning that must be prioritised and how can women become stakeholders in their own urban safety. To discuss this vital issue, the Women Writer’s Fest of SheThePeople.TV conducted a pop up panel discussion at the recently held Litofest in Mumbai. The discussion focused on how women can reclaim urban spaces. The four panelists included Elsa Marie D’Silva gender safety activist and founder of Safe Cities, journalist, and co-author of Why Loiter Sameera Khan, Jane Borges co-author of Mafia Queens of Mumbai and journalist and the founder of think tank Urban Spaces, Prathima Manohar. The discussion was moderated by academician Dr Yamini Dand Shah.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • A panel discussion was organised to understand the lacunae in urban planning that must be prioritised and how can women become stakeholders in their own urban safety,
  • The discussion focused on how women can reclaim urban spaces.
  • The crux of the whole discussion was to establish the fact that a city that is safe for women is safe for everyone.
  • The urban planning required is to re-imagine cities from the women’s perspective and how it should be directed towards the basic needs to ensure women’s safety in public spaces.

The crux of the whole discussion was to establish the fact that a city that is safe for women is safe for everyone. The urban planning required is to re-imagine cities from the women’s perspective and how it should be directed towards the basic needs to ensure women’s safety in public spaces.

Perspectives on Women Reclaiming Urban Spaces

Elsa Marie D’Silva, social entrepreneur and the founder of Safecity, a platform that documents sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces, spoke about the importance of knowing the individual stories of harassment of women and not general statistics. Women from every city should narrate their problems and perspectives of safety. With reference to Safecity, she said, “We encourage people to share their stories anonymously. These are then plotted on maps so that you can visibly see it. Then you can look at it from location perspective but understand from backgrounds and trends so that you find out information to improve your own situational awareness and start a dialogue in your community for solutions and work with institutional service providers for accountability. At the end of the day, safety is not a woman’s issue but a societal issue.”

Another important idea about women’s safety in public places, as Yamini Dand Shah points out, is related to how safe and free a woman is to loiter around for fun. The negative idea of ‘loitering’ known to us subverts the gender role and performativity.

Another important idea about women’s safety in public places, as Yamini Dand Shah points out, is related to how safe and free a woman is to loiter around for fun. The negative idea of ‘loitering’ known to us subverts the gender role and performativity. Women are not safe and free enough to celebrate loitering. To this, Sameera Khan’s book and research give a clear perspective. She is a Mumbai-based independent journalist, writer and researcher.  In reference to her book Why Loiter?: Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets, Sameera said that the discussions about safe public spaces for women are directed towards personal safety and violence. It focuses more on where a woman should not go to be safe rather than increasing the safety in the public spaces.

She further said, “To access safety in public spaces, a woman has to have a functional purpose for being in public space, often related to work or college. Secondly, a woman has to manufacture respectability for herself as a respectable, “good woman”, to access the safety in public spaces. There is no space for a woman for just hanging out or loitering. One of the ways of reclaiming public space is to encourage women to hang out in public space more and more and in pleasurable ways.”

An entirely different perspective on reclaiming the public spaces and women safety was reflected in the work of Jane Borges, co-author of Mafia Queens of Mumbai. The book is about the lives of lesser-known women mafias and mentors of well-known male mafias and dons. Talking about her trope of Mafia Queen, Jane stated, “These women control and take charge of certain areas in Mumbai. They are totally invested in the area and its people. The people also love them and go out of their way to shield them from cops. It is interesting how women control these urban spaces within Mumbai while residing there.”

How to plan cities that are safe for women?

Urban Planning for building a safe city requires an indispensable involvement of proper governance and public participation in the policymaking. Providing her insight on reimagining a safe city, Prathima Manohar, social entrepreneur and the founder of The Urban Vision, a think tank on cities, said “the planning of a city has a direct implication to the access of women, children and senior citizens to the city. The citizens of our cities need to push the elected representatives to build cities that are accessible to everybody. I think a city that is great for a woman is great for everyone.” Talking about the basic principles that are required for a city accessible to women and to everyone, she said, “We need basic principles like 24 x 7 markets, walkable spaces, metro connectivity to the last mile to our houses to re-imagine a city and make it accessible for women. The citizens need to push the political leaders to frame the kind of policy we require to build a safe city.”

“Even if we are talking about citizens being informed enough to push for accountability and policy change, the citizens need to be gender-sensitive to understand the why a city needs to women-friendly and how can it be done.”

Adding to Prathima’s perspective of greater involvement of citizens in policymaking, Elsa said, “Even if we are talking about citizens being informed enough to push for accountability and policy change, the citizens need to be gender-sensitive to understand the why a city needs to women-friendly and how can it be done.”

As Yamini Dand Shah pointed out, the architecture of a few cities that are inclined towards making the roads and traffic comfortable for car users is also a reason why public spaces are not safe for women. To this Sameera Khan added that not only individuals but material designs are also responsible for making a public space unsafe for women. If public spaces are not safe, women have to make bigger decisions like choosing a college near to home to avoid using public spaces more.

Not every woman can have access to cab or taxis to avoid public transport. So the urban planning should focus on the development of every area in a city, be it the footpaths, public spaces or the main road traffic.

Different women experience cities in different ways. Not every woman can have access to cab or taxis to avoid public transport. So the urban planning should focus on the development of every area in a city, be it the footpaths, public spaces or the main road traffic. Further enlightening on how a safe and inclusive city can be built Prathima Manohar said, “Enable more participation of the community in the public policy matters. We need to have empowered governance that has one entity who is accountable for whatever happens in the city.”

The discussion ended with the idea of encouraging women to use public spaces and making public space safe for every woman. The rethinking of such a city requires proper urban planning that focuses on making a city and its public spaces women-friendly.  In the words of Prathima Manohar, “To increase the participation of women in society, the physical infrastructure should be improved and made more accessible for women.”

Rudrani Kumari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV

Also Read: Bangalore Women Writers’ Fest: What To Look For This Year?

Email us at connect@shethepeople.tv