We need more women in public spaces for an equal society

  • Kalpana Viswanath
  • Updated: Apr 29, 2015 22:25 IST

Pink autos, pink taxis, pink signages in the metro — when did pink become the colour of Indian women? Indian women wear a range of vibrant colours. The pink-blue divide is a recent western import.

But the broader question is: Do we need pink autos and taxis? Would this ensure safety of women? Will separate spaces for men and women ensure safety? In fact government schools in Delhi are all segregated. There is no evidence that this leads to greater safety. If boys and girls from a young age are not given the opportunity to interact with each other in a healthy and normal atmosphere, every interaction becomes fraught.

I certainly see the benefit of having more women drive autos, taxis and buses, work as bus conductors, work in petrol pumps, in general be visible in public places. Having more women circulate in public spaces is good because safety audits have shown that having more women in public spaces makes the space safer for everyone. Both men and women find gender-diverse spaces safer.

A park used by men, women and children certainly seems safer than one which is male dominated. So the government should create the conditions whereby more women are able to move freely in public spaces. The Delhi Transport Corporation recently publicised that they have their first woman driver. They must now find ways to not only encourage but make it a priority to have more women as drivers and conductors. While women-only spaces such as the women’s compartment in the Delhi Metro must not be seen as the final solution to the problem of safety, I concede that it is an important strategy in a society where women feel unsafe. It is important at this time to have some separate spaces, but they must be part of a larger basket of solutions that also address gender inequalities and gender violence.

The message that we are giving by only looking at segregation as a solution is that a society without sexual violence is not possible. What we are saying is that it is not possible for women and men to live in spaces which are mutually compatible and safe. We are also condemning all men as predators. In fact many men do not inflict sexual violence on women and we need to figure out how to build a society where this is the primary reality.

What we need to do is to begin to address the roots of inequality in our societies. We have to do the hard work of creating a more equal and just society and there are no short cuts and easy solutions to achieve that. Along the way, we may need to do many things to improve women’s experience of everyday life, but the goal remains equality.

Kalpana Viswanath works on gender and urban issues and is co-founder of Safetipin
The views expressed by the author are personal

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