Female Pedestrians On Mumbai’s Traffic Signals, But Is This Symbolic Move Enough?
In a first-of-its-kind move, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has installed signs at a traffic junction in the Dadar area of Mumbai with female figures in a bid to promote gender equality. Maharashtra’s Tourism and Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray shared the information on social media on Saturday. Tweeting photos of the newly-installed signs he wrote “If you have passed by Dadar, you will see something that will make you feel proud. @mybmcWardGN is ensuring gender equality with a simple idea – the signals now have women too.”
According to reports, the BMC will be changing the road signs and pedestrian signals at 13 junctions on Cadell Road, which is a 4.5-km arterial stretch in Mumbai’s Dadar and Mahim. The concept is a pet project of Maharashtra Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray. It is part of his effort to develop a “cultural spine” in the city. It also involves setting up vertical gardens behind bus stops, better footpaths, and guiding tiles for the visually impaired.
The initiative did win applause from many. Netizens approved of the change, with one social media user writing, “Much inclusive. It’s nice to see that politicians are willing to work towards Gender equality.” Another twitter user wrote, “A small yet powerful step towards a better world 🙂 ”
However, not everybody was impressed. One woman commented, “My dude, I know you mean well, but we just want men to stop sexually assaulting and killing us, and not get away if they do.” Another user tweeted, “Really nice, Aditya. This is a pathbreaking contribution to women empowerment. Now, women will not be scared to cross the road. They’ll feel welcome because, until now, crossing the road was male privilege.” Someone sarcastically wrote, “Wow women must feel so empowered now!”
Is This Symbolic Change Enough To Usher In Gender Equality?
No matter which side one is on in this debate, there’s no denying that the intent behind changing traffic signals change is good. It’s of course important to reduce the cultural bias against women that has been around for generations now. But then again, there are several layers to this discussion. The first being, adding women to traffic signs doesn’t help make roads safer for women. Or solve other problems faced by women in public places. Such a move can also be dangerous as it may take attention away from real issues that affect gender equality and women empowerment. Like the dreadful rate of crimes against women that happen on the roads at nights. Money is being spent to implement something like this – why can’t that money go towards helping fund the safety of women on roads? Or safer public bathrooms for women?
The Problem Lies In The Sign Itself
Also, by putting a dress up on the existing image on traffic signals, and saying that symbol means woman, one is relegating further back into heteronormative boxes. Just putting women pedestrians on Mumbai traffic signals can prove detrimental to young boys and young girls instead of inspiring them. For a young boy, it reinforces the idea that only women can wear a dress. For a young girl, it reinforces the idea that she belongs in a dress.
There’s undoubtedly an underrepresentation of women in our everyday lives. And I also understand that the female traffic light is endeavouring to equal that out in some small way. But it still only draws more attention to the gender norms prevalent in the patriarchal and heteronormative society that we live in. The gesture of changing the traffic lights is symbolic and lovely, sure. But that’s about it–outside of representing an idea, neither does it offer anything to women directly, nor does it promote any change. It simply reinforces pre-existing, suffocating ideas of gender expectations. Hence, unless all of the above-mentioned factors are taken into consideration, and worked upon, merely changing signboards will not bring in much positive change as far as gender equality is concerned.
Picture Credit: Twitter
Dyuti Gupta is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.