Across the spectrum, parties are talking about women’s safety this time. It is important to understand that creating safer communities and cities is a holistic process that must address response to violence, prevention and creating the conditions whereby rights can be realised. It cannot be stressed enough that programs that deal with ending violence against women must be multi pronged and must involve a wide range of stakeholders. Without a strong political commitment, it is not going to be possible to bring about long term and systemic change that addresses the actual causes of the problem.
First, the work of addressing violence and crime is an issue of policing. We demand a robust police and legal system. From the time of any incidence of violence, there needs to be quick, efficient and non judgemental responses from all actors. The case must be dealt with swiftly by the legal system so that perpetrators of violence have a fear of the repercussions of their actions. We believe that more efficient systems that ensure the surety of punishment are the most important.
But other stakeholders also need to part of the solution. Better urban design and planning can go a long way in ensuring safer public spaces. Safety audits done across cities have shown that what is needed is better lighting, better streets, well maintained sidewalks and other infrastructure. In addition, cities and towns need to be planned to make streets more active, lively, and usable by a wide variety of people, including women, children, people living with disabilities and others.
There is a dire need for more and better managed public toilets that are severely lacking in our cities and the ones that exist are often in bad condition and are barely usable. In slums and resettlement areas, community toilets need to be kept clean, well maintained and safe. Cases of women facing harassment while going for open defecation is not uncommon.
Good and safe public transport is essential for women’s mobility. We demand all forms of public transport to be safe for women and girls to use at all times. Why is it so unsafe for women and girls to be out after dark? The fear of harassment and violence results in rights being denied to them. Protecting women or teaching them self defence is not going to create a safer world. The language of protection must be transformed into a language of rights.
Kalpana Viswanath is a researcher who has been working on issues of violence against women and safer cities for women for over 20 years. She is the co-founder of Safetipin, a mobile app developed to support community and women’s safety. She has led research studies on violence against women in public spaces in the city. She spearheaded the Safe Delhi for Women campaign led by Jagori since 2005 and led the research work that included conducting women’s safety audits and surveys and played a role in creating partnerships with key stakeholders.