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Monday, Sep 23, 2019

Pervasive sense of fear is leading to more controls on women’s freedom

A key parameter that aids greatly in increasing women’s safety is the presence of “eyes on the street”, a concept first presented by well-known urbanist Jane Jacobs. Eyes on the street ensure that public spaces are watched over by people who have invested in that space.

delhi Updated: Mar 11, 2019 02:04 IST
Kalpana Viswanath
Kalpana Viswanath
Women’s safety is a very big concern in Delhi and must be a key priority for any city government.
Women’s safety is a very big concern in Delhi and must be a key priority for any city government.(HT File Photo)
         

Women’s safety is a very big concern in Delhi and must be a key priority for any city government. As the capital of the country, it is imperative that Delhi must be made a more equal, inclusive and accessible city for all its citizens. Lack of safety has many ramifications on the lives of women. It is not only the actual violence, but the pervasive sense of fear that accompanies us wherever we go. Further, this sense of fear has led to more controls on girls and women’s mobility and freedoms. From an early age, girls and women are fearful about walking in the city, especially alone.

With growing research, it is becoming evident that cities that are walkable are safer. And cities that are safe are more walkable. Safety audits done around the world show that many of the parameters that define safety of women on the streets and public spaces are similar to those that encourage walkability. Thus, good lighting and well-designed pavements are conducive to both safety as well as walkability.

A key parameter that aids greatly in increasing women’s safety is the presence of “eyes on the street”, a concept first presented by well-known urbanist Jane Jacobs. Eyes on the street ensure that public spaces are watched over by people who have invested in that space. Thus, having a street front that is active with shops, cafes and buildings make it safer for women to be out and increases their mobility. Vendors and kiosks on the streets also provide eyes. When a street is perceived to be safe, we find more people are willing to walk.

In Delhi, a majority of people walk and use public transport. Census data shows that of the number of people who commute to work in the city, 25% men and 32% women walk. Further, a similar percentage use public transport, which involves walking the first and last mile. But even with a smaller percentage, the number of cars on Delhi roads is staggering and growing at a rate of more than 1,000 vehicles a day. Women of a certain class now are also shifting to personal cars with safety as a key reason.

The world over, we see a turn away from the private vehicle as the model of street and city planning. Efforts include high parking rates, improved street life and responsive public transport. Some cities have also completely pedestrianised certain areas and streets. In India, Gangtok is the only city where the centre is closed to motorised vehicles. Chandni Chowk is currently being worked on to become a completely pedestrianised street.

City streets can be wonderful places to walk – they carry the energy and ethos of the city. The flaneur of the 19th century was a person who walked the streets for pleasure. A few years ago, a British journalist chose to be a flaneur in Delhi and walked the city in concentric circles and wrote about his experiences in a book. I was struck by how it is near impossible for a woman to decide to do something similar in Delhi or any Indian city easily. Unlike the flaneur, the flaneuse carries an element of transgression as she is not meant to be seen wandering the city. The privilege of moving around the city without purpose is a right largely given only to men in Indian cities. Women are expected to be on the streets only with a purpose and not meant to “hang out” or loiter. When cities become safer and more walkable, hopefully women will not only be able to move around without fear, but also be able to enjoy the city and its streets and public spaces.

(Kalpana Viswanath is the co-founder and CEO of Safetipin)

First Published: Mar 11, 2019 02:04 IST