Not Possible to Rank Cities on Safety for Women: Elsa Marie D’Silva

Looking at all the horrendous stats on crimes against women — and lived experiences — we thought about doing a story on ranking Indian cities, or reflecting on rankings. Here’s why Elsa Marie D’Silva of SafeCity says that’s simply not possible in this country. She also shares a handy primer on what we need to start getting right!

Also Read: Selective representation of women is curating the discourse: Elsa Marie D’Silva

I would like to state that it is not possible to rank cities in India on safety for women. For one, crimes against women especially sexual violence is highly under-reported. This means that official statistics do not reflect the true nature and size of the problem, thus making the problem “invisible”. The global average according to UN Women is that 1 in 3 women experience some form of sexual assault at least once in their lifetime yet 80% choose not to report it officially. In my experience, the figure is much higher because whenever we ask the question about experiencing sexual violence at a workshop or during our focus groups, almost all women have a story to share.

The global average according to UN Women is that 1 in 3 women experience some form of sexual assault at least once in their lifetime yet 80% choose not to report it officially.

Often women don’t understand what constitutes sexual violence and most of them are ignorant about the legislation. Further sexual violence has been normalised over a period of time. All these factors lead to staying silent, accepting the status quo and under reporting.

– For cities to be considered safe for women, they need to design and plan for women in public spaces.
Transportation needs to be convenient, safe and affordable.
Lighting and infrastructure like public toilets, bus stops, parks needs to be more than adequate, functional, safe and clean. Often lighting has a direct co-relation to women’s safety.

In our data set, public toilets seem to be a zone of hotspots as they are poorly maintained, dirty and dark. Our dataset also indicates that transportation seems to fall short — they are overcrowded where women are groped, they are not frequent, thus limiting mobility, bus stops and railway station infrastructure are not well-lit and maintained making them comfort zones of perpetrators to operate out of.

Also Read: New women’s safety app launched in Hyderabad works without internet 

Finally, if a city is to be declared safe for women, we should check the number of women out in public spaces at all times of day/night in the most unlikely places.

If we want women to be safe, their mobility and choices cannot be restricted or limited and we cannot prevent them under the guise of their “safety”. They should have the same opportunities as their male counterparts and safety should not have to be the top concern for any woman. Unfortunately I cannot think of a single city in India where this is possible.

However, I have experienced walking late at night in Stockholm, Sweden and not fearing for my safety. I have travelled solo to several countries including Turkey, Hungary and never had to worry about my safety whilst travelling on public transport or accessing parts of the city at night. But I am still reluctant to travel solo within India and am constantly taking private transport at a higher cost for my safety in India. It should not be the case. (I am conscious that I have not directly answered your questions but honestly I cannot give a ranking.)

Another aspect towards being safe would be the confidence in bystander intervention.
Most men may not be perpetrators but they are definitely silent bystanders. We analysed 1,500 out of 10,000 reports specific to transportation-related sexual violence reported on Safecity and found that often bystanders stood there and stayed silent. It is a feeling of helplessness with which women wrote in because they asked for help and yet no one came to their aid. A city, to be resilient and safe for women, needs to have engaged citizens with a sense of community. Once again, we need to ask ourselves the question if we are one.

Also Read: A woman’s place in society by Elsamarie DSilva

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