At Akshara Centre, a non-profit working for the empowerment of women, a bunch of girls are warming up, stretching and cooling down. They learnt some of these exercises yesterday. The fitness routine an essential part of an unsual weekend plan – a 7-km night marathon to be held this Sunday.
Urban Feet—Run for Women’s Safety has been organised by Akshara in association with Hindustan Times and fitness mobile app company UActiv. The public event is championing the idea that women should be free to loiter and enjoy their city at all times of the day, just as men.
At the warm-up session held at Maharashtra Kamgar Kalyan Kendra in Lower Parel, the girls were practising neck, shoulder, waist and leg exercises. They were also learning about what to eat before and after the run in order to avoid dehydration and cramping.
“It is important for women to reclaim the night,” says Nandita Shah, the co-director of Akshara. “It is sad that we need to remind ourselves that the streets are ours too, and that public spaces should be equally accessible to both [genders] at any time.”
For the girls at Akshara, who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, running the marathon is more than support for a cause. I want my parents to change their views about me being able to go out at night,” says Sandhya Chauhan , 20. “By running in this event, I also feel I will promote sports for women,” she says.
Vidyawati Verma, 20, is excited about her first marathon. “I am running to let people know that no one has the right to tell us when we should step out and where we should go,” she says.
Akshara and HT have been consistently highlighting for women’s safety since the Make Mumbai Safer for Women campaign in 2011, which included a comprehensive survey of sexual harassment of women in public spaces. Of the 4,225 women interviewed, 43% perceived skywalks to be unsafe and 46% said they had been sexually harassed inside buses. Another 21% said stalking was a concern.
Four round-table discussions followed the findings, as HT and Akshara sought to frame solutions. Following the Shakti Mill gang rape case in 2013, HT and Akshara conducted a safety audit of streets, railway stations, parks and playgrounds, attempting to determine what makes women feel unsafe in public spaces in Mumbai.
Nearly 30,000 people then signed an online petition calling for well-lit parks and railway stations, opening up of police chowkies in areas where they had shut down, and the reconstruction of public toilets. Akshara along with other women’s organisations submitted the petition to the chief minister in 2013.
Some of these recommendations were addressed, but much more needs to be done. You can lend a hand and be heard by running at midnight in the first week of the new year.
WHAT: Urban Feet-Run for Women’s Safety, a 7km night run to spread awareness and raise funds for women’s safety
WHERE: Bandra-Kurla Complex
WHEN: January 7, 11 pm to 2 am
PRICE: Rs 600 per person
ENTRY: Open to all, no age or gender restrictions
For details, go to bit.ly/2hvHpvD; tickets available at bit.ly/2iHCyVY
“As women, we have a sense of fear instilled in us about claiming our rights to public places. This run will be like a symbolic gesture to show that we can all get together and rightfully claim what is ours. One night run won’t change attitudes, but it is important to start somewhere.”
Geeta Rao, Brand consultant
“I am supporting this cause because I want to ensure that getting out at night is not synonymous with only seeking entertainment. A woman should be able to get out if she wants to just take a walk. We need to change the public mindset and make people realise that women are fearless. That women are now ready to claim their rights.”
Ch andra Iyengar, former additional chief secretary, Government of Maharashtra