To raise awareness and trigger action to end violence against women, the UN observes the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25. The theme for this year is ‘Leave no one behind: End violence against women and girls.’
The fear of violence in public spaces affects the everyday lives of women as it restricts their movement and freedom to exert their right as citizens of the city – freedom to move, study, work, and leisure. Women, particularly those living in low income settlements, feel unsafe in their settlements after dark. There is no Indian city which provides 100 per cent safe spaces for women in their own neighbourhood and public places.
A total of 34,651 rape cases were reported in India in 2015. As many as 2,251 rape cases were reported in Odisha and Odisha was fifth among the 36 States and Union Territories in the country in terms of the number of rape cases registered in 2015. Apart from rape, Odisha in 2015 also registered 6,499 cases of assault on women with intent of outraging modesty, 356 dowry death cases, 886 sexual harassment cases, 2,587 cases of kidnapping and abduction of women and 225 cases of stalking as per the National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB) report.However, the State witnessed a fall in rape cases in 2016 with 2,144 cases. The women and girls in Bhubaneswar are not safe in different public and work places. This has come several times in newspaper headlines and media. In Bhubaneswar Urban Police District, there were 72 rape cases reported in 2014 against 51 in 2013, 56 in 2012 and 35 in 2011.
The number of rape cases in the State capital has also increased in 2015 as compared to 2014. 87 rape cases were registered in Bhubaneswar in 2015 as compared to 72 in 2014. These are the examples of lack of safety initiatives for women and girls in the community. Besides, gender-based violence is present at various levels, beginning with discrimination in education, employment and wages.The State Capital Bhubaneswar leads in the Smart city race. A city cannot be smart and sustainable, if women and girls are not safe and lives in fear of violence.
International cities either have implemented or are experimenting with smart technologies in the areas of intelligent transport management systems and public safety. In February 2015, Bhubaneswar has taken the initiative to install closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras at different locations of the city. It is the first of its kind initiative in Odisha and is being utilized as a tool to control crime and enhance traffic movement in Bhubaneswar. But despite the fact women still don’t feel safe as these have been implemented partially in some places, the Smart City Bhubaneswar should be inclusive and equitable. It is important for the policymakers to adopt a gender-inclusive urban plan. Smart City will generate options for all residents to pursue their livelihoods and interests meaningfully. This refers to a city’s ability to create employment opportunities, social sustainability, environmental sustainability, safety and security.
Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread violations of human rights. Over the past decade, many States have introduced laws addressing various forms of violence against women. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 provides protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and for prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment. The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles.There are also several sections of the Indian Penal Code that deal with sexual harassment. In spite of legal measures, violence against women has not yet completely eliminated.
Planning and designing safe public spaces for women and girls means creating public spaces with urban design features that enhance women’s safety. Urban design is not only about making places look good and aesthetically pleasing, it is also about functionality of the space.Therefore while designing safe public spaces for women, planners, architects and urban designers place special focus on lighting, landscaping, visibility, motorized traffic, pedestrian traffic, urban furniture, signage, proximity to other public spaces, and proximity to emergency services and access to public transportation. If public spaces are dark, abandoned, unclean, or lacking certain elements like emergency phone booths etc., the spaces are potentially unsafe for everybody. Therefore, there is an increased chance that women and girls will not use spaces where they feel fear or experience violence.
Local authorities and city management have a crucial role to play in the prevention of violence against women, both in public and private spaces. A safe city for women and girls is a city where women and girls can enjoy public spaces and public life without fear of being assaulted. Safer Cities Programmes can be organized in different cities which will contribute to a better understanding of gender-based violence on the city level and the development of adequate tools to prevent it. City planning affects the sustainability, accessibility, usability, design and quality of places. Gender-sensitive city planning and design can help to make cities safer for women. These types of planning take into account the practical and strategic needs of women and girls and include women in design, implementation and evaluation of planning projects. Architects, urban designers and planners can take up responsibilities and play a key role in improving the situation of women by designing safe neighbourhood and safe public spaces for women and girls.