Government and leaders around the globe are taking major steps for safety and protection of woman. From amending laws to creating awareness through art or entertainment. But, what happens to take a back seat is planning the cities in a way to make them safer for a woman to travel. Lonely streets, dark areas and public transport are the places where abuse and harassment take place. This the area where a major change needs to be brought in. Cities need to be revamped keeping gender neutrality in mind. That is keeping the needs of both men and women in mind.
Here is how a city would look like if it was planned for and by a woman:
Public transport would be more gender neutral
While men are more likely to use the car for getting to work, women, on the other hand, take the public transport (trains, subway, buses) more multiple reasons other than just work – buying groceries, dropping children to school etc. Thus, making more trips on foot compared to man. Lack of access to the public transport can have long-term effects like a woman not limiting their trips outdoors which in turn could have an impact on their education and employment opportunities.
In such a scenario, the public transport needs to be curated to be both comfortable and safe for woman. Brazil, India and Japan are making train journeys safer by adding more lights and introducing woman only train car. New York is exploring the idea of open gangway cars on the subways which allows passengers to move from isolated parts within a train to a crowded one. As per a study by the UK Department of Transport, women preferred human presence while commuting than technological help like CCTV’s which dint really prevent the crime than just record it. Due to limited funding, technological solutions like CCTV’s is preferred over measures like an increased staff. No, we are not saying technology is bad. Cities like New Delhi and Toronto are incorporating initiatives like panic buttons and personal request stops, where people can exit the buses at places other than their designated stops.
Cities would have more safety audits
Every city has a bunch of isolated areas and lanes which woman are often told not to travel alone, especially at nights. But what if her work requires her to travel a lonely street? Well, thanks to the safety audits, she can pinpoint this area, where she felt extremely unsafe. Based on the findings, legislative changes would be suggested. This idea was first pioneered in Canada in 1989, which slowly spread across the world.
So this is how it works! Once an area is identified as unsecured, a group of women would analyze that area based on a 15 category checklist like is there adequate lighting, are there negative graffiti messages or signage, are there demolished buildings, are the footpath wide enough, are there group of people which make woman feel unsafe, are there enough people etc. All of this is filed in a report and recommendations are made to the government.
The J.S. Verma Committee, which was formed after the Nirbhaya rape case, identified 4 vulnerable areas in the capital which the government will work towards making it safer in the best way possible. While this is widely used around the world, unfortunately in India, the success of safety audits has been very limited.
There will be more amenities for woman use
If more women were involved in planning of the city, facilities and amenities needed for woman, especially for mothers would not be so under-represented. It highly likely women are the ones who are the main caregivers of children. Thus, making it important for the urban planners consider infrastructure which is welcoming for children as well. As per an article, more mothers are likely to use public transport with children if the stations, platforms etc are designed keeping adult and children in life.
The issue gets worst for nursing mothers due to lack of facilities be it in a workplace or airport. As per Medela Breastfeed India Survey 2017, workplaces lack of lactation facilities like breast pumps, creches or proper feeding rooms. However, cities like Bengaluru and Beijing, are increasingly making the city more women friendly by adding nursing rooms in public venues like major bus stops.
There would be more street lights
Bringing in this small step can make the walking alone at night for woman stress-free, convenient and safe. Believe it or not, more street lights can help in reducing sexual harassment women face while walking on the streets. For instance, during the US economic recession in 2008, in a bid to cut costs, cities began to reduce the number of street lights. Results? It had a negative effect on woman’s safety with as cases related to harassment and violence spiked up.
Sensing this urgent need, nations around the globe are investing in street lights for making a woman feel safe, especially those who do not have motorized form of transport. For instance, Delhi (which was considered as the rape capital) is now among the 25 other cities around the world to join the ‘Safe City’ programme. Some of the initiatives of this programme include boosting investments in street lighting, installing CCTVs, setting up helplines etc.
Policies pertaining to city planning would not be gender-blind
Woman and girls need to plan with the city rather than being planned for. Urban and city planning, building and construction, architecture etc. are highly male-dominated sectors. So, it pretty obvious that their perspective and perception will flow into the way cities and towns are planned. Women are omitted or have little participation in decision-making related to cities, housing and planning decisions. Thus, when cities are being planned to keep women’s needs into mind, more woman should be heading the urban planning committee and being more pro-active in addressing their needs.
Countries like Austria, South Korea and Seoul are excellent examples of a city that has incorporated gender mainstreaming into urban planning. Moreover, there would be more diversity if more women occupied the topmost positions as mayors and architects. Sexual assault, abuse, disrespect can never be fought only with a men’s perspective.