Locations – Najafgarh, Sonipat, Panipat, Japla, Siliguri, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Raipur
To mark International Youth Day, our youth leaders conducted Participatory Safety Assessments (PSAs) in public places to analyze how safe or unsafe public spaces are for girls and women. They also organized discussions to bring out experiences and perceptions of safety of girls and women.
This year, the global call for action for International Youth Day is #SafeSpaces4Youth. Through PSAs and discussions, our youth leaders are raising the important issue of safe spaces for girls and women and how their vulnerability to violence and marginalization in public places prevents them from meaningfully engaging in political, social and civic matters and realizing the global vision of democratic engagement of youth across all spaces, platforms and sectors.
PSAs are spatial analysis of a public place like school, college, bus stand, railways station, marketplace or monument to map out how safe or unsafe spaces are in a given public place, based on the lived realities and experiences of women and girls. The core objective of conducting PSA is to develop an appropriate strategy to reduce incidences of sexual harassment in public spaces, with knowledge, ideas and support of the youth. It presents a clear picture about the safety issues for girls and women, the attitudes, mind-sets of individuals inhabiting these public places, and the key factors that impact safety.
From August 5 – 8, PSAs were conducted in several public places in Najafgarh, Sonipat, Panipat, Japla, Siliguri and Raipur. Discussions were conducted in all locations, including Hyderabad and Bengaluru. These PSAs were conducted in public places like monuments, museums, marketplaces, parks, railway stations and university campuses. During the discussions, the youth also brought out other public places that are highly unsafe for girls and women and discussed the various reasons behind the lack of safety.
It came out:
●Public places like parks, monuments and museums are highly unsafe for women and girls with little or no security measures.
●Even places like markets and malls weren’t found to be very safe. What also stood out is that the routes to these public places are also extremely unsafe and girls and women face maximum sexual harassment on streets, lanes and bylanes.
●Public places like railway station, from where public transport is accessed, were also found to be highly unsafe for women and girls.
Reasons for Lack of Safety of Women and Girls in Public Places:
●Staff and guards responsible for the security of these public places are either complicit to VAWG in public places or are perpetuators of it.
●There is an absolute lack of women guards and workers in most public spaces. It is worth noting that these public spaces do not even appoint women workers for spaces like women’s toilet.
●Spaces like railway stations and bus stands are often used by men and boys for recreational purposes. Unfortunately, these recreational activities often take the form of VAWG, where these men and boys sexually harass women and girls (going out for work and education) to entertain themselves.
●Recreational spaces like monuments and market places are also not accessed by women, when they are alone. They either visit in groups, with families or with partners. They might visit alone if they have a personal vehicle at their disposal.
●Public places often do not have women’s toilets that are centrally located, well-lit, safe and clean. Lack of proper, safe and clean toilets often inhibits women’s mobility, curbing their participation in public life.
●Spaces like parks, gardens, chowks and chaupals are not just public spaces for recreation, but also spaces for political and social mobilization and discussion. However, these spaces are often dominated by men, with limited or no access for women and girls. This limited access is a huge deterrence towards women and girl's integration into political and social lives. They remain unaware of public debates and opinions, do not have any stake in it and therefore, are not seen as important political and social actors. Also, due to their continued absence from these spaces, these spaces also become blind to their needs and aspirations and only cater to the male needs and aspirations.
●Even the architectural design of many such public places tends to be gender blind. Extremely narrow gates, lack of proper staircase, proper lighting or construction of toilets at the far ends of the public place are some of the examples. As a result, these spots also become a site of violence against women and girls, where men can easily ambush them and sexually harass them without the fear of being seen or noticed.
●Some of these public places are located in far-flung areas. Due to lack of proper public transportation in some of these areas, one has to walk up to these public places or take recourse to shared autos, rickshaws or taxis. It has been brought out that often the route to these places or the mode of transportation to reach these places is also highly unsafe.
●It is also perceived that presence of state security forces (like the police) contributes to the safety of a public place. Some of the PSAs say otherwise, where despite the presence of a police station or a police chowki in the vicinity, there are rampant instances of sexual harassment, thefts, pickpocketing or drinking and gambling in the open.
Youth Opine, How can we make Public Places Safer for Women and Girls?
●Proper lighting, security and surveillance
●Presence of female guards at all entrances and exits along with male guards
●Better maintenance of public places like monuments, parks and museums, so that they do not have any blind spots
●Construction of proper, clean toilets in centrally located spots. Separate toilets should be constructed for men and women; they should be well-lit and open at all times. Also, in many women’s toilets, there are no women attendants, which often deter women and girls from using them.
●Provision of proper, safe and regular transportation to all public places. Also, streets and lanes next to them should be well-lit and secure.
●Proper and manned parking areas around these public spaces, so that the roads or lanes in the vicinity are not jammed or cramped, allowing women and girls to comfortably walk to their destinations.
●Regular police patrolling
●Proper training of security staff, including gender sensitization training
●Public places like parks, gardens, monuments, museums should be utilized further for public events, so that they are maintained regularly and not remain as desolate as they usually are. Also, these events should cater to women audience or visitors to ensure their regular participation and access to public places.
In the coming weeks, the youth will share their PSA findings and recommendations with relevant stakeholders (like police, municipality, ward councils, panchayats or university management) to bring to their attention these critical aspects of safety of girls and women in public places. They will also push these stakeholders to take the necessary action and work with them to ensure that these spaces become safer and inclusive.
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