We still have a long way to go in ensuring gender justice
Women safety is an issue we are grappling with in daily lives in our cities. While at one level, it involves preconditioning, unconscious biases, stereotypes and values we impart to our children, at another level, it needs appropriate urban structures for women to move around comfortably.Updated: Apr 16, 2019 09:39 IST
Last week, a friend who is settled in Hong Kong for the last 23 years, asked me if India was safe enough for a single woman like her to return to and live a “full” life. I knew what she meant by a “full” life — having an independent career, being able to go for hiking, biking and trekking sojourns, and being able to hang out with friends. I didn’t have a firm answer for her. Nevertheless, I encouraged her to take a leap of faith.
Women safety is an issue we are grappling with in daily lives in our cities. While at one level, it involves preconditioning, unconscious biases, stereotypes and values we impart to our children, at another level, it needs appropriate urban structures for women to move around comfortably. There is also a lack of consensus on the key enablers to women’s safety. Leave alone men, even women with progressive mindset often talk about “half-baked” and “ill-conceived” ideas for enhancing women’s safety.
Given our conditioning and societal biases, women themselves are often unclear about their true roles and identities. Education sadly does not teach the right approach on women-centric issues. How else would you explain highly educated women in social settings talking about how a good-looking girl is more likely to get molested or stalked? We need to educate our communities through interactions, awareness and more community engagements of what are the right frameworks to build a safe society. Much of the work begins at home. We need guiding principles for parents on how they can create a gender-sensitive environment at home.
Creating the right infrastructure for safe public spaces is also important. There certainly needs to be adequate streetlights on roads and streets both in terms of quality and quantity. Very often, street lights do not work or streets are poorly lit. Besides, certain vibrancy on roads — including vendors, pedestrians etc — to ensure enough eyes on the road is a must.
Broken and uneven pavements add to the feeling of insecurity. What we need is smooth and well-maintained pavements for pedestrians and well-defined, well-lit walk paths. Women feel highly unsafe in deserted and dingy paths or sub-ways. Proper signage and directions on the roads also add to their sense of safety.
Creating public spaces is one thing, how well they are being used by the city-dwellers is quite another. Gurugram has a few public spaces, but these spaces do not attract diverse multi-gender crowds. City residents have to make greater use of these spaces by organising informal meets, picnics, music events around them and not restricting their meets to malls and coffee shops.
Another important facet of safety is having a robust, reliable public transport system. It is safer for women to travel in public. Also, the entire police force, traffic police included, needs to be sensitised and responsive to women-related issues and crimes, rather than limiting the accountability to women-only police stations and women police/traffic officers.
In corporate life too, women have to deal with not-so-subtle gender discrimination and fight off stereotyping tendencies. Expectant women or those will small children are often not considered for challenging roles. Very few are able to make it to leadership positions. Sometimes, women do not get support from other women in the office. One of the most insidious ways in which a woman is impacted is sexual harassment.
Thankfully, since December 2013, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place Act 2013 is in place that has created legitimate structures within organisations to prevent and redress this issue. Still, much has to be done in spirit to create a healthy work environment for women to feel safe and empowered within organisations.
So, to my dear friend, I can say that India has progressed to some extent on gender sensitivity. Gender issues are being highlighted, talked about, written about, and debated; families are becoming more conscious of what they talk to their children, both the genders are being sensitised to the need for the uplift of women. Enterprises are “beginning to think and act” on bringing true gender equality and empowerment. Still a lot remains to be done. Nevertheless, this is a good time to return to India, albeit not without skepticism. Returning to India not only adds to the community of progressive women in the country, but also helps in breaking stereotypes.
Welcome home my friend!
First Published: Apr 16, 2019 05:52 IST