There can be considerable differences in how we experience our cities day and night. A bustling public park can turn into a spooky and unsettling environment after dark. Cities are rarely designed to meet the needs of people at night or to accommodate the realities of marginalized communities. KD Singh makes us understand how the demand for a safer environment in cities can help make society safer for women.
According to the World Health Organization, one in three women has been the victim of physical or sexual abuse. Given the prevalence of events in the world, it becomes natural for women to have intense and perpetual emotional and psychological pain. For many years, this type of constant and powerful stress impacted their mobility and prevented them from realizing their abilities, hampering not only the individual, but societies and communities as a whole.
India sadly ranked 140 on the World Economic Forum (GGI) Gender Gap Index 2021. The GGI Index, which measures gender equality in countries, bases its analysis on four pillars : economic opportunities and participation, political empowerment, education, health and survival. India needs to do well in each of these pillars to perform well, with the economic implication being of utmost importance as it directly affects the GDP.
In order to advance gender equality for economic progress, it is crucial that our engines of growth, our cities, make women feel safer and more comfortable. “The horrific 2012 ‘Nirbhaya’ gang rape in Delhi caused outcry not only in India but across the world, forcing the government to change anti-rape laws. Unfortunately, these legal changes have yet to stop or lessen the harassment women face in public places,” says KD Singh. Mr. KD Singh adds, “Our public transport systems, our roads and even our outdoor spaces continue to be plagued by violence against women and girls. Gender-based violence in public places is a broad category of behavior that includes both non-physical bullying, such as making sexual remarks, aggressive staring or pointing, and actual bullying, including molestation, physical assault, acid attacks and rape.
In India, urban planning, which is above all a question of design and infrastructure, has never really been linked to security, which is rather a legal question. However, by promoting and adopting safe designs, planners can contribute significantly to the development of safer cities. It is well known that areas of cities with few or no lights are more prone to crime. The atmosphere is safer for users, especially pedestrians, on well-lit streets. To support this, KD Singh exemplifies, “As many US cities reduced street lighting as a cost-cutting strategy during the 2008 economic recession, the correlation between insufficient street lighting and female violence became more evident.”
With regular reports of occurrences in major cities like Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, and cities like Trichy and Bhopal, “dimly lit roads” are frequently cited as a serious issue for women’s safety in Indian cities. To create natural surveillance, our cities must promote bustle and porous streets. People will use the streets if the land use is distributed in such a way as to accommodate a good number of cafes, restaurants and leisure spaces, such as libraries and rest areas. To better serve the public, cities should also provide legal space and amenities to the informal sector, such as hawkers, rickshaw stands, etc. “Porosity can be produced by limiting the height of boundary walls and turning houses and gates towards the street,” suggests KD Singh.
Moreover, economic growth depends on public transport, which can also be made safer for women. For them to have access to employment, health care and education, safe transport is essential. Despite this, there is little information in this area, and there are not many laws, regulations and attempts to address it. This measure needs more attention in order to achieve a safe and secure city where women can move freely.
While the architecture and planning of public spaces can contribute significantly to crime prevention, how a city handles an unavoidable incident can serve as an example and, from a women’s safety perspective, have a direct impact on subsequent incidents. A paradigm shift towards an inclusive urban development approach, where planners are involved in the process of developing an inclusive and safe city for all, is an urgent need for our nation.