NOT A SMART CITY IF IT ISN’T SAFE FOR WOMEN
The other day my colleague Marika came to office traumatised. She had been attacked on a busy thoroughfare just outside our office in Connaught Place by a man who tried to snatch her cellphone. She did not let go of the phone but sustained injuries to her neck where he hit her hard. The man went down the road and made an attempt to try again to snatch her phone. He failed, thanks to her raising an alarm. It brought home painfully how difficult it is for many women simply to execute tasks that men do in a heartbeat and without a thought. I am speaking of navigating public spaces safely.
In the full knowledge that women must rely on themselves for protection, have you thought of how many seemingly mundane tasks women refrain from doing or are careful while doing them in an act of self-preservation?
Women have to be careful what route they take to work and what time they are on the roads. As my colleague found out, being in a well-lit area surrounded by people does not necessarily protect you. If a woman goes to a party, she has to ensure that she does not drink too much and leave herself vulnerable and also not to leave her drink unattended. A simple thing like calling in a handyman, if you happen to live alone, is fraught with danger as the man is then privy to several details about your life. In many urban areas, a woman living alone is considered fair game and venturing out to markets or other places after dark is unsafe.
If a woman is harassed, chances are that she will not be able to confront her harasser as passersby tend not to get involved, or worse still, support the offender. A woman going out alone to a party or an event often has to inform someone of her whereabouts, carry the numbers of friends on speed dial and, in the case of some women I know, carry pepper spray or some other item to repel attackers.
Then we have the matter of clothes. Invariably, a woman’s clothing is seen as the reason for her attracting unwanted attention. It is a different matter that babies and women covered from head to foot are raped or molested with regularity. As one of the convicted in the December 16, 2012, gangrape said, the victim had no business being out at night, she is to blame for what happened to her.
A friendly chat with an unknown man at a social event could be mistaken for an invitation. It can be followed by stalking. We all know someone who has suffered this way. In public places like the metro, or while walking, women hesitate to make eye contact with men for fear of this being seen as friendliness. In India, the lack of safety in social spaces stops many women from working, disempowering them and resulting in economic losses for the family and the country.
The allowances made for men are simply not there for a woman. If a man drinks too much at a party, he is a bit of a lad. If a woman does so, she is thought of as easy and a bit pathetic. A man can get up and go about his life every day without overthinking everything. It is a good thing that women take most of these precautions in their stride
If they had to do all this consciously, I think they would collapse from sheer nervous tension. It has become so much part of a woman’s psyche, that it does not bother her as much as it should. This is not how smart cities are built. I won’t go into the issues rural women face here. The foundation for a smart city is that everyone should have freedom of movement without fear. Let’s get that right first; women’s safety will fall in place.