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Civic Sanskriti: #ChooseToChallenge... We women must raise our voices on issues that make a difference to our lives

About five years ago, at a meeting for the preparation of the Pune Cycle Plan, a waste collector from SWaCH narrated her story: “I was around 35-years old when I decided to learn cycling
By Sanskriti Menon
PUBLISHED ON MAR 09, 2021 12:59 PM IST

About five years ago, at a meeting for the preparation of the Pune Cycle Plan, a waste collector from SWaCH narrated her story: “I was around 35-years old when I decided to learn cycling. It helped me save time and money on travel for work. But, it was not easy for me. People in our community made remarks that I was becoming too bold, and that I might soon leave my husband.”

It was dismaying to learn about such prejudices against women in this day and age, in Pune. But, she was courageous. She did learn cycling and has continued to cycle since then. We applaud such women.

Women face difficulties because the city is not designed according to our needs, and no one is asking us. We encounter opposition to independent travel, both due to stereotypical attitudes, and out of concern for safety. Whatever be the cause, it restricts a woman’s freedom and ability to have a wholesome life.

Among the various ways in which a city can empower women, is enabling independent travel. Women need transport options that work for them, by which they can access work, education and meet domestic and social needs.

Ranjit Gadgil, programme director at NGO Parisar, says, “For a lot of women, a vehicle is a luxury, often not in their “control” and hence, public transport in Pune, much like the locals in Mumbai, is key. They do need travel options that are not restricted only to “safe” hours, or only short distances.”

Studies here, and in other cities, show that women are more dependent on walking, cycling, use of rickshaws and public buses, and spend more time travelling. These are excellent modes from an environmental point of view, but they also must be designed and managed to be safe, comfortable and convenient for women.

The travel patterns of women are also not the same as those of men, because their daily schedules are different. For example, the running of the home and care of children are typically seen as women’s work. Due to this, women may make a series of trips, such as dropping off children to school or day care, going to work, and purchasing domestic provisions on the way back.

It is important to go beyond generic study insights to specifics – what type of services are needed and where, which areas feel unsafe? The PMC must enable platforms to engage with the public, and especially with women in all wards of the city, on a regular basis to understand these needs, and act to implement changes.

Ward-level planning processes combined with creative mapping and discussion events are useful for this. For example, another SWaCH member had shared that, “Boys are zooming around on motorcycles while girls hesitate to even use a cycle. Why don’t you organise walking- and cycling-day events in vastis too. It will help to change the mentality.”

Such events could be used for transforming attitudes, as well as mapping physical changes needed. These might include cycle stands near bus stops; identifying dark spots where street lights are needed; opening up a line of sight with other street users to improve safety; amenities for sitting spaces; trees with shade; drinking water and toilet facilities.

It is clear that a city with safe, well-lit and active streets, with facilities to walk, cycle, use share-rickshaws and public transport will make a great difference to women’s lives.

The opportunity to contribute to public decision-making, to change attitudes by involvement in civic decisions, and having a city that is safe and comfortable are intertwined.

We need transport transformation in Pune, shaped by women. The Maharashtra Government’s Women and Child Welfare Department should take this on as a mission.

Extending International Women’s Day to today, I #ChooseToChallenge myself and my sisters to raise our voices for safe, comfortable, affordable mobility.

I #ChooseToChallenge the city and state governments to involve everyday women citizens in decision-making about transport facilities and public space.

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