This series highlights the core concerns of the Safer Cities Programme, Delhi, supported by UN Women and partnered by Jagori, Delhi Government, Safe Cities Campaign, ICRW and UN Habitat. The central principle of modern urban life is the equal participation of women and girls in the everyday life of the city, a principle that is grievously affected by the lack of security marking their lives. So how do you secure the public safety of millions of women in an area that has 28,508 km roads, a metro used by over two million commuters? How do you ensure that women are not assaulted, attacked, sexually harassed in a city with hundreds of markets, parks, schools, colleges? The series will report on various aspects of an initiative that seeks to build strategic partnerships to address the safety of women in Delhi.
Schools For Safety: Lessons On Gender Equality
By Aditi Bishnoi
Girls and young boys are undoubtedly the most at risk from crimes like harassment, leering and inappropriate touching. Much of this violence has penetrated the schooling system, just as it has become a lived reality for girls and women whether in homes, offices or in the general public space. It is with the idea of changing this reality by reaching out to young impressionable minds that Pravah and Jagori, a Delhi-based women’s resource centre, joined hands under the Safe Cities Progamme Delhi, and undertook a slew of activities involving 800 hundred children in eight government schools in south Delhi. The effort included dialoguing on gender equality and raising awareness on children’s right to a safe learning environment. Film screenings, safety walks and self reflection exercises were also organised.
“We chose government institutions as that’s where the majority gains an education. Teachers, who are in a position to influence the attitudes of students, are important stakeholders in this conversation. Therefore, we work with teachers and students simultaneously.”
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By Suneeta Dhar
Mixed City Spaces Are Safe City Spaces
The recent gang rape in Mumbai and the torture and murder of a young Dalit woman in Haryana remind us of the rising tide of violence against women in urban spaces. The women who are potentially the worst affected in unsafe conditions are the very ones who have no voice in deciding the contours of the city or ways to make it safer. One often wonders why it is so hard to involve local communities in planning their own living and working spaces. We know that top-down planning, no matter where it takes place in the world, is never effective. Urban design should better reflect the aspirations, imaginations and requirements of all sections of the population. The director of Jagori, a Delhi based women’s resource centre, addresses a crucial question: How do we make our cities safer for everybody, especially women?
For the first time in nine years, girls who had never played collectively in public actually reported that they were cycling and taking part in games in a park that they had helped to create.
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By Pamela Philipose
That Call For Help: How Effective Are Helplines?
The rising tide of sexual violence in India has prompted the authorities to set up support services, including helplines. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav announced and a helpline for women facing sexual harassment in his state late last year. In Delhi, when public anger spilled on to the streets after the December 16, 2012, gang rape of a student, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit installed a dedicated helpline service – 181 – for women facing sexual assaults, which functions from her office. Making such efforts work, however, is another story. While the significance of an effective helpline is widely recognised in India, it is still very much a work in progress. Several aspects need to be addressed. Should there be a multiplicity of helplines or should there be just one? Should the helpline be located within the police system, or outside it? What are the elements that make for effective follow-up action? More clarity will emerge as the concept of helplines catches on and larger numbers of people are encouraged to use them.
“Experience tells us that a woman under attack often has multiple issues to contend with – ranging from access to a hospital or shelter home to education for a child.”
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By Amrita Nandy
From 'Rape Capital' To 'Safe Capital':
In Delhi's downtown Connaught Place
– now officially called Rajiv Chowk – the incessant
hustle and bustle of a weekday evening ended for a while.
Office goers, tourists, vendors and shoppers stood still, much
like the majestic white Victorian columns near them. They
stopped in their tracks at the sight of a few women, who walked
in slow motion and asked aloud in chorus: 'Can I? Can
I walk on the street at 12 midnight? Should I? Should I lie in
the Park? I should. I can.' Highlighting the issue of
shrunken spaces and restricted public access for women,
'Walk' – the street performance by
Maya Krishna Rao and the Citizens Collective against
Sexual Assault, an NCR-based social group – is one of
the diverse efforts underway to re-organise the cultural
and physical landscape of Delhi to transform it
from 'rape capital' to 'safe capital'.
Meanwhile, voices demanding a rethink in urban planning
are growing louder, with concerns about women's access to
public transport, public toilets and parks taking centrestage.
The safety audits conducted by Jagori, a Delhi-based
women's resource centre, also highlight the need for
inclusion of women's security concerns in Local Area Plans
and calls for public consultations with women before all
project proposals are conceptualised.
'Street lights and public toilets should definitely
encourage women towards public spaces. While main roads
and certain areas of our city are often well lit, we need
uniform lighting across all kinds of colonies.'
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By Bula Devi
Redefining Masculinity and Femininity For Teens
What is 'mardangi' (masculinity)? Who is a 'respectable' girl? Is a
boy 'smart' only if he has a gym-pumped body?... When it comes to
dealing with conventional notions of masculinity or femininity,
questions like these baffle the minds of young women and men. Living
in a predominantly patriarchal society leaves little or no room for
independent thinking. This was clearly evident when a motley group of
youngsters, aged between 14 and 21 years, from Badarpur, a low-income
area in south Delhi, came together to share their viewpoints on what
qualities made up the ideal girl or boy. It was part of Jagori's
on-going 'Safer Cities Programme Delhi', which is being supported by
UN Women. While the boys in the group expected "good girls" to be
demure, for them being 'manly' meant displaying physical strength,
"wearing dark glasses and walking in a flip-flop manner". A revelation
that left the young men flummoxed was when the majority of girls in
the workshop declared they wanted to pursue a career in medicine,
because they had this idea that all girls wanted to be either
beauticians or housewives.
* "Why is it that boys whistle or pass lewd comments when an unknown
girl rides a scooter or walks alone on the street? They don't do this
if that girl happens to be the sister of someone known to them."
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By Shwetha E. George
Secure Public Spaces Kerala’s Women Rally For Change
For decades, no woman or girl in Kerala has ever considered a trip by bus or train safe. In fact, ‘groping’ is so commonplace, that the stereotype of the ‘groper-in-the-bus’ is a regular part of the comedian’s stock-in-trade in the state. According to the State Crime Records Bureau, 3756 molestation cases were registered in 2011; the actual number would, of course, be much higher. A recent study conducted by Sakhi Women Resource Centre, a Thiruvananthapuram-based organisation, revealed that 100 per cent of the women and young girls contacted had experienced some form of sexual harassment on public transport, which is why it has become the most critical issue for Kerala’s women. There are various interventions undertaken to address it - there are helplines in several cities though whether they are effective or not is another story – but change in public attitudes towards such criminal behaviour is clearly long overdue in a state regarded as one of country’s most progressive.
* “These incidents are born out of a deep-rooted contempt and disrespect for women. No law can change this.”
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By Pamela Philipose
Maps For Change: Making Delhi Safer For Women
Delhi, which commemorated its centenary as the capital of India recently, is a city marked by paradoxes. The per capita incomes here are almost twice that of the national average, yet half its children live in slums and resettlement colonies. While it has a history of settled population that goes back several centuries, it is also the site of high levels of migration. Delhi has seen the emergence of some of India’s most powerful women and yet its sex ratio is a low 865 girls for 1000 boys. It is one of the most heavily policed regions in India but is also the site of the highest number of rapes in the country. So how do you secure public safety for women in a city of over 16 million people? This is an issue that has assumed great urgency, especially after the chilling gang rape of last December, which left the city searching for possible ways to address the issue. An innovative project, The Safe City Initiative, attempts to do just that.
* “The law is important but cannot by itself solve the problem. After all, we cannot keep changing the law. The trouble with Delhi is that it has a VIP culture that breeds impunity and there is little understanding of a woman’s right to bodily integrity and free movement.”
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