When it comes to women’s safety in public spaces, we always talk about corrective measures, not preventive measures. What can we do to prevent a crime? Safety apps, emergency bells etc. do help women in distress, but what can help women feel safer on the streets?
To discuss women’s safety in Gurgaon at our second edition of Gurgaonwaali on Thursday, we had Safetipin founder Kalpana Vishwanath and Priya Menon who started a citizen’s movement, Make Gurgaon Safe For Women.
Urban Planning And Gender
Vishwanath believes in planning cities in such a way that it gives women a sense of safety. She said, “I don’t say design alone can act as a solution to safety issues of women, but it is certainly one that is achievable.”
About Gurgaon, Vishwanath said it has not been thought of as a city. “In a city, you build the streets, sewage and public transport etc. You build places where people can go and entertain themselves, places for children to go and build the entire network as a city to have eyes on streets.”
She added, “The government must build streets where people can walk. But Gurgaon is built as a set of high-rise buildings with roads that can only facilitate people who travel by car.”
Normalization of Rape
Menon expressed concern over how horrific crimes like rape have become normalized in our mindset.
“Now what angers us is when a rape is extremely brutal or of a nature unheard of before like Nirbhaya. So unless that kind of severity takes place, rape has stopped angering us. How normal have we let this become?” – Priya Menon
Vishwanath, who has done extensive work in how gender and urban planning should merge to make women feel safer, gave Kolkata’s example. They have planned the city well and people can find women walking on roads even at late nights without a care, she said.
She also spoke about a concept called ‘Eyes on Streets’. “If you go out, you will find eyes on streets as in there are people who can see you on the streets.
“Back in the day, we did not have such high-rise buildings, so people could stand on their balconies to see the street. If children were playing on the streets, then people on their balconies were keeping an eye on them. So there was a way in which people had a sense of responsibility for their community” – Kalpana Vishwanath
“That is a way of instilling that through designing the street, so there is an interaction between what is behind the street and the street itself,” she added.
But in Gurgaon, nobody can see you on the streets from the high-rise buildings.
Vishwanath’s venture has come up with a ‘Safety score’ for different areas in the city. She took parameters like lighting, walk paths, eyes on street etc. and crowdsourced the data on her app. This throws up areas which require work in terms of safety.
All About Citizen Movements
Menon agreed with Vishwanath’s points about how general city planning will make it safer for women.
Instead of blaming the authorities, citizens must stand up to fight social issues like molestation, harassment and rape, said Menon.
“If anything had to be done to make women feel safe on the streets, it would have been done by now. While there are various agencies, individuals, NGOs doing different things at different points in the city, there is no cohesive approach to women’s safety,” she asserted.
50% Population Not Safe
“We talk about making it a millennium city but as long as the authorities don’t account for the 50% of the city’s population in terms of safety, I am not sure how we can make it a millennium city. So we decided that we as citizens will come together, start a movement and work with relevant agencies to make a program aimed directly towards making the city safe for women,” Menon explained.
She went on to say how safety today is only a matter of luck and not by any kind of political or social design.
Lastly, we need a sea change in people’s mindset, where we wouldn’t need to blame the infrastructure for women’s safety. We should be responsible ourselves in maintaining each other’s safety.