Shilpa Ranade, architect and co-author of Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets, talks to the Hindustan Times about how gender-sensitivity can be initiated into the way the city is planned.
How much consideration is given to women's safety by planning bodies?
There is no articulated discussion in planning bodies about women’s safety. In other words, it is a non-issue. It is essential to communicate that women are not a ‘special case’ when it comes to designing public spaces. They constitute half the population. And additionally, designing women-sensitive spaces also makes these spaces more accessible to other marginalised people, such as senior citizens and children.
In what ways can planners - everyone from architects to civic officials - be made more sensitive?
One way for planning to become more gender sensitive is to include more women on the team. There are not enough women bringing in their perspectives in the decision making process. Second is to have workshops, which sensitise them to these issues because for the most part, it is just a case of sheer ignorance. Third is to educate the future decisions-makers by making these questions part of the curriculum. We conduct a course every winter in the Habitat school in TISS, which is one such example. And most important, I think, is to make the issue a central part of public discourse.
Which spaces are particularly neglected, and how can they be made safer?
Rather than point out particular spaces, the most important concern that is neglected in all public spaces is that of lighting and visibility. Providing better lighting — and in most cases in Mumbai just making sure that the existing lights work — can make a huge difference to women's sense of safety in places like railway stations, subways and over bridges. Visibility is also a critical issue. For example in the new skywalks that are coming up across the city, the proposal for putting advertisement hoardings along the edges is a complete no-no if we consider women's safety.