Haven’t we heard enough jokes about women and their heavy handbags? Guess what? Nobody fancies carrying a pepper spray, Swiss knife, and stun guns to a brunch/meetings/party; it just has become necessary to evade evil. A tool that compliments well with our constant urge to be fearfully vigilant with oblivion glances, invariably fastened footsteps and the dim street lights.
While walking down the street to my apartment, I felt that a car was quite steadily pacing with few men whispering to each other and occasionally out of the window. It took a minute or so for me to gather the courage to even turn around to look at them, and it took them the presence of a man, alongside me, to rush off . Whenever I think about the night it makes me wonder if it really took the sight of a particular gender for them to back off & “save me” from prepositions of uncalled propositions.
I work for an organization which works for women’s empowerment in the capital of India. Through my own experiences I believe that education, development and recreation all can manifest peacefully if the issue of safety is taken care of, which somehow rides shotgun and every other issue seems to take a backseat. Laxmi Puri, the deputy executive director of U.N. Women said, “Unsafe public spaces limit women’s and girl’s life choices. This daily reality limits their freedom to participate in education, work, recreation, and in political life,”
The Economist Intelligence Unit released its annual Global Livability Index (GLI) which takes 140 major cities & ranks them across indicators which include – stability, healthcare, education, infrastructure, culture and environment. In the 2019 report, New Delhi and Mumbai have stood 118th& 119th respectively, which means that the former has dropped six ranks since last year, and has also seen an increase in cases of petty crimes, and Mumbai has gone down in its rank by two places as a result of dwindling in the category of culture. The report deterioration in culture and environment scores is of concern, which includes quality of air in cities like New Delhi.
Some of the serious and key issues that should be addressed are – regarding pregnant women and children, elderly, and persons with physical disabilities, who are forced to climb footbridges, the zebra crossings don’t seem to function in its entirety due to reckless road etiquettes and the underpasses can’t be called fully safe. Furthermore, lack of public toilets in schools and public places and its health ramifications are crucial parameters for making livability difficult in cities.
A girl sitting on a park bench, or a pavement, or strolling around anywhere, basking in the bright darkness as the sun settles down, with a melancholic breeze piercing her hair to make way for the moon to glow, and conversations start to flow of dreams and dandelions, of climate crisis, bad air quality or outrageously unsafe public spaces… although seems like such a beautiful screenplay for a film, but in reality it’s apparently too much to demand for an environment that’s inclusive, where women can use public transportation conveniently and simply stroll down the streets without possessions being stolen, being cat called, or groped.
All our stories are intermingled and meet at the juncture of reality. Hence, our cities also paint the same picture in the form of its approach and layout. The infrastructural blueprint of cities was neither designed by women nor with keeping their needs in mind. The clear lack of cognizance leads to not just the manifestation of gender based violence but also trickles down to the albatross hanging on the shoulders of women, and pouring of questions of why they were at a particular place at odd hours.
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” (Jane Jacob)
We are always better together, and together we can envision our cities to be clean, safe and inclusive while keeping hostility, bias, stereotypes and fear at bay.
Country Roads, Take Me Home, John Denver. Poems, Prayers & Promises, 1971