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“There is a need to engage with the community and transform male attitudes”

Anuradha Shukla| Delhi 03 Aug 2015, Vol 6 Issue 31

When Senti Naro, 25, who hails from Nagaland, was offered a job in a leading multinational company in the National Capital Region, it was like a dream come true for her. Her euphoria sadly was short-lived.

While coming back from work one evening, she was assaulted by a group of boys and the incident left her so traumatised that not even a swanky office and high five-figure salary was able to hold her back.

Although the Delhi Metro has considerably eased city-wide mobility and is considered a safer alternative by many women, the absence of last mile connectivity from station to their home is felt acutely (Photo: WFS)

“I was so scared that I decided to take up another job and relocate to Hyderabad. The salary being offered there was lower but I knew that I would always be looking over my shoulder if I stayed put.

“It was a price I was unwilling to pay. The Capital and its satellite cities, like Gurgaon and Noida, are not safe for women. Just setting up posh offices or building glitzy malls does not make a world class city. Something is not right when you cannot even create an environment wherein women feel safe enough to step outside their homes,” laments the youngster.

That girls and women in Delhi face clear and present danger is a fact that has unfortunately been reinforced time-and-again. The Delhi Police data clearly points to the rising incidents of gender crimes - whereas there were 1,636 reported rapes in the city in 2013, the figure rose to 2,166 in 2014.

Indeed, alarm bells on the issue of women’s safety have been ringing not just nationally but globally, too. According to Laxmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, “Not just Delhi but cities across the world are increasingly becoming unsafe for women. One-in-three women globally experience either physical or sexual violence or both. Unsafe public spaces severely limit their freedom to pursue an education or employment of their choice.”

In an effort to make cities safer and more gender-friendly, UN Women had initiated the Safe Cities Global Initiative in 2010, covering five cities, including Delhi. Through strategic alliances with communities, grassroots women, local governments and other stakeholders, this intervention, which has spread to 25 cities in the world now, “develops, implements and evaluates comprehensive approaches to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women and girls in public areas”.

With India undergoing rapid urbanisation and the government’s ambitious plan to create 100 smart cities, complete with systems aimed at better management of energy resources, water, transport and traffic, Puri points out the need to keep the issue of safety of women on top, “As the Indian government plans the Smart Cities Mission, it is important for the policymakers to adopt a gender-inclusive urban plan. This is how we can ensure better participation of women in economic development.”

One look at the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures reinforces Puri’s call. Whereas the number of rapes in the country has risen by 35.2 per cent over the last year, at present, one case of domestic violence is brought before the authorities every five minutes.

The rate of crimes against women in Delhi is equally disturbing - as per a UN Women report, 92 per cent of women in the city have experienced some form of sexual violence in public spaces in their lifetime.

“We are talking of smart cities today but it is just as essential for cities to be safe. Who is going to work and stay in a place where women feel threatened?

“To make cities safer, we have to take up a more coordinated, focused approach, engaging with all stakeholders, including policymakers, the civil society as well as ordinary citizens. Only then will we be able to deal with this problem effectively,” points out Sunita Dhar, Director, Jagori, a Delhi-based women's resource centre.

Jagori has been closely working with UN Women to implement the Safe City Programme in Delhi. According to Dhar, poor public transportation has emerged as one of the key vulnerabilities. For girls and women, commuting during late night hours is particularly fraught with challenges.

Nishtha Garg, an advertisement executive, feels rather tense the day she has to sit till very late in office. “I often return late at night. Travelling by bus is a strict no-no. I prefer riding the Delhi Metro as it is safer. But then the journey from the metro station to home is full of hassles.

“Most often, the streets are not well lit and it’s scary to take a cycle rickshaw or auto all alone. I stay inside the station and wait for my husband to pick me. I feel bad about calling him but the situation these days is such that one can’t take a chance,” she says. Despite the obvious problems, Garg’s family is supportive of her pursuing her career of choice, but many have to simply give up or seek more convenient options.

Although the Delhi Metro has considerably eased city-wide mobility, the absence of last mile connectivity is felt acutely. Moreover, as per a Delhi Police report, 44 of the 125 metro stations are poorly lit at night, which spells bad news for female passengers. In fact, in 2014, over 2,000 cases of stalking have been reported from outside the stations.

In a bid to allay fears, Anuj Dayal, Spokesperson, Delhi Metro, assures they are looking into the matter, “The Delhi Metro is committed to women’s safety. Ensuring a coach dedicated to women was an initiative in this direction. We are even installing CCTV cameras in coaches to deter miscreants. And based on the feedback, we will also make sure that stations are well lit.”

Apart from the metro services, there is a move by the Delhi government to make the Delhi Transport Corporation’s (DTC) bus network more women-friendly.

Says Sandeep Kumar, Minister of Women and Child Development, Delhi, “Public transport needs to be safe for women. We plan to depute trained marshals in all DTC and Cluster buses. Initially, we will deploy 4,000 marshals. This will not only put a check on eve-teasing but will instill confidence among women to freely use public transport.”

To further enhance security, the government has installed CCTV cameras in 200 buses and is even providing much-needed gender sensitisation training to the drivers and other personnel.

Of course, experts and activists agree that just safeguarding public transportation is not enough. “One can be safe inside the women’s coach of the metro but what happens when one steps outside. We have to identify the vulnerable localities and work towards making them safer. Technology can be of tremendous help in this,” says Kalpana Vishwanathan, senior advisor to Jagori and the co-creator of Safetipin, a mobile phone app that uses crowd sourcing and in-house safety audits to spot areas where civic infrastructure, like lighting, transportation, and roads, or police patrolling need to be improved. The app allows users to be tracked by their families and friends, when feeling vulnerable.

Maya Rao, academician and theatre personality associated with safety campaigns in Delhi, adds, “Safety is not dependent on creating infrastructure. It has to do with people’s mindsets as well. There is a need to engage with the community and transform male attitudes.”

Ultimately, it is a combination of short-term and medium-term policy framework as well as initiatives undertaken by various stakeholders that will usher in the desired change.

“Even the fear of harassment restricts women from coming out in public. It is this apprehension that we have to address by making educational institutions, the marketplace, offices and police stations gender sensitive,” sums up Puri. That truly would be the hallmark of a Smart City! - Women's Feature Service 

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