HOW TO HAVE INCLUSIVE, CONVENIENT AND SAFE CITIES FOR WOMEN
There is no city or country in the world where women and girls live free of the fear of violence. Walt Whitman (1819-1892), American poet, essayist and journalist, said, “Where women walk in public processions in the streets the same as the men, where they enter the public assembly and take places the same as the men; there the great city stands.”
The International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 to ensure that policy makers recognise the importance of equality to end all forms of violence and discrimination against women through good laws. This year’s theme “Empowering Women – Empowering Humanity: Picture It!” envisions a world where each woman and girl can exercise her choices such as participating in politics, getting an education, having an income, and living in societies free from violence and discrimination.
The designs of our cities and neighbourhoods as well as the various urban functions reflect our culture, values, lifestyle and relationships. Long confined to domestic activities, women have gradually moved into public arena. The urban setting must adapt to this cultural and social change, and cities must now deal with the realities of women.
The city is important for both working and nonworking women. So, development of new policies and revisions of the policymaking process are crucial to meet women’s needs and ensure their full participation in the process of development as a complete citizen. Planners and architects have developed design guidelines and rules to build women-friendly communities. But, often these guidelines are overlooked or just ignored during the planning process.
Women-friendly cities are defined as: An Inclusion, convenience and safety place where women can grow, prosper, and participate effectively in developing their city. Therefore, the participation of women in the planning process is crucial.
The condition of women in India has always been a matter of grave concern. Since the past several centuries, Indian women were never given equal status and opportunities as compared to men. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), 34 per cent of women in Odisha experience physical violence.
Women’s fear of violence and crime affects their lifestyle and routines and the way they experience urban areas and the public realm in particular. They are more likely to be pedestrians and require access to public transport. So, the design of neighbourhoods for safety in and around the home and from the home to transit stops and facilities is paramount.
When a designers design a house, neighbourhood or a town, they must make many decisions about how to solve problems of women. Women safety in public spaces is a major issue in today’s world as most women do not find public places safe. Women’s experience of safety in urban areas is different to that of men. Urban settings and the way they are designed affect levels of fear which are higher among women.
Communities can take up responsibilities and play a role in improving the situation of women by designing safe public spaces for women. Besides, Municipal governments have a role to play in helping women enter the decision-making process. Equal representation is certainly one way to ensure that the needs of men and women will be addressed in municipal planning and management.
All cities should be inclusive, convenient and safe cities for women. Inclusive by helping women fully access and participate in the social, cultural, economic and political life of the city. Convenient by adapting the urban infrastructures and services to women’s needs in a fashion that embraces their nature, social role and schedule. Safe by creating a safe urban environment for women to allow them regain their right to the city.
There are specific planning and design requirements for land uses and settings to reduce women’s higher levels of fear. Such requirements include residential areas, public open space, public toilets and telephones, hospitals and other large institutions. The particular requirement for residential uses is to ensure safety of women who are more likely to live alone and occupy the house during the day when others are not around by designing for maximum surveillance of the street, providing adequate privacy and discouraging access by intruder.
Women’s Safety Audits (WSAs) can help build safer communities. A women’s safety audit is a simple and effective way to find out from women about aspects and places in the community that pose obstacles to safety and access.
The WSAs are a participatory method of assessing the safety and accessibility of a city and its public spaces for women. It is a simple process of walking through a space and assessing factors that lead to unsafety/safety. The safety walks are conducted before and after dark to see how public spaces are transformed at night. Essentially participatory in character, they identify spaces that are unsafe and the factors causing lack of safety or exclusion. The WSAs build upon the notion that the users of a space are the experts and, thus, have the knowledge to find solutions to the problems they face.
The right to the city refers to a rights-based approach to building inclusive cities. The inclusive city has four dimensions – economic, social, political and cultural. The fundamental principle of the right to the city is that human rights are interdependent and indivisible. Women have a right to the city. Women’s active participation will make an inclusive, convenient and safe city for them.