Gender-based segregation of public spaces has been challenged over time as more women have been stepping out to claim equal spaces. Public spaces ought to be a space occupied by diverse sets of people with distinct needs and aspirations. The plurality of men in public spaces has raised the question of “Who owns the space?”. Physical spaces depend greatly on social norms set by men. Vulnerable and marginalised populations face issues related to access to public spaces. Participation in the workforce has enabled women to step out and claim public spaces and equal citizenship. Urban women have better access to resources and infrastructure. A large chunk of women in urban areas commutes daily using public transport. On the contrary, women belonging to remote areas face the additional burden of infrastructural challenges when it comes to utilising the public spaces to aid their economic growth and meet their day-1 to-day needs. They carry the dual burden of household chores and caregiving responsibilities while stepping out to earn a livelihood to support their families.
The photo essay is my attempt to address the gendered nature of access to public spaces and its impact on women’s mobility and lives. I have traced women from different regions of India stepping out for their day-to-day activities and reclaiming the largely male-dominated spaces. Reflecting on aspects such as the role and activities that women are engaged in public spaces and unravelling the layers of caste, class and age for physical spaces and social norms.
Solang, Himachal Pradesh, daily wage women workers appointed on a paint job for Border Road Organisation in harsh climatic conditions despite working hard despite their age, largely dominated by male labourers. They work for over 8 hours everyday on a very busy highway on the hill to support their families.
Kutrumali, Kalahandi District, Odisha
Woman of Kutrumali village located on the top of the hill going for a water hunt in the scorching heat of 48 degrees. While the women and elder girls of the village fetch water the men sit outside their homes or outside the villages smoking tobacco (Tendu Patta) or getting high on locally made liquor (Mahua).
Kalahandi District, Odisha: A young girl cherishing the free and open space unaware of the harsh realities of life.
For many women, the anonymity of public spaces offers them the space and freedom to escape the hold of traditional communities and families. In contrast, freedom may gets hampered by the high rates of violence against women.
Atal Tunnel, Himachal Pradesh: Doctor from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh out on a riding expedition in the grandiose Himalayas.
Kalahandi District, Orissa: A Kondh tribe woman lost in her thoughts while her cattle are grazing in the fields.
Koksar District, Himachal Pradesh
Lahaul District, Himachal Pradesh
Street side women vendors from local districts and villages around tourist spots in Himachal Pradesh, out for earning livelihood by running small businesses such as food stalls. They hike for over 10Km everyday, carrying raw materials and stuff to sell.
Rajeev Ranjan is a political consultant and development professional with demonstrated experience of working in public health, education, nutrition, policy framework, and consulting domain in hard-to-reach parts of India. He is affiliated to the Center for Health and Mental Health, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.