Monthly Archives: April 2014

Creating Safe and Equally Accessible Spaces in City for Women

By Sukhmani Grover

Women in Malviya Nagar, participating in a cultural protest to claim equal access to public spaces

Women in Malviya Nagar, participating in a cultural protest to claim equal access to public spaces

The dramatically evolving urban landscape in cities poses tremendous challenges for women.  Safety in public spaces is one of the major concerns for women in urban area.  According to the door to door survey, of over 100 women and girls in the Khirki and DDA area of urban residential area of Malviya Nagar, Delhi, violence against women is rampant in this part of the city.

It’s been fast and swift three months of being in the Malviya Nagar community, building power and trust, reaching out door to door in this area, developing relations with RWA members, beat constable, street vendors and building further community through a bunch of stuff like creative arts and inspiring theatre workshop.  What we have here is a group of strong and committed members from this locality who are ready to take charge of their local community and access.  To all of them, gendered access to space or gender based violence are challenges, like women in community not being able to comfortably and freely go to streets and market, due to societal fabric around is an issue they face, women feel troubled with the unwanted gazes they get and they strongly believe in bringing about this mindset change around gendered spaces.  For them all the genders have all the rights to be having free access to any public space.  Their collective action is pointed towards reclaiming this space.  Also, women in community face this trouble around not being able has safe access to any place where they wish to be.  To most of the women we talk to, safety concerns further restricts their movement around their local area.

“Women’s safety is the key issue that I want the government to work on,” voiced a resident of DDA, Khirki.  During elections in national capital, security and inflation remained predominant concerns weighing on women voters’ minds in this area.  Most of the women feel that the increased cases of violence, eve teasing, sexual harassment in public spaces have restricted their mobility and freedom, reduced their access to essential services and overall have negatively impacted their well being and reduced their free participation in day-to-day acts!

The strong will and participation of women from this neighborhood has been tapped by Haiyya’s ongoing campaign, for safer and equal women’s access in the form of a cultural protest on the streets of Malviya Nagar, Delhi.   A dynamic group of women, congregated at a neighborhood tea stall, following the lines of Gandhi’s tactic of  ‘sit-in’ in an attempt to break free the notions of why can’t women go out to a stall for a cup of tea.  The cultural and societal fabric, along with unsaid rules and gazes make the public space like a neighborhood stall and outlets inaccessible to women.  This tactic of sit-in at the local stall is an attempt to reclaim their full access and subvert the cultural notions.  While most of the women were enjoying peacefully their cup of tea, to them it was a moment of accomplishment and sense of freedom, there were numerous instances of public around gazing, asking questions to other people around and to the vendor of what is happening.  One of the elderly men from the community showed interest and was keen to know of what is going around? As he approached one of the volunteers at the tea stall, to which we humbly gestured him to wait as it was a moment of silence going on.  As soon as we got done with the sit-in, one of our team members took initiative and explained to him what was happening and the context behind to which he was amazed to see community making such moves! The group of women participants had this sense of satisfaction on their faces.  One of the women from community, who also lead this delegation of women, made a strong and energetic call …Zor Lagake..Haiyya! To which all the people around joined and echoed same.  The women then peacefully moved back to their respective chores.  It was an intense and strong movement.  Nothing was said, but everything was felt around, the strength was shown in peace and unity around the cause.  The cultural and societal notions were strongly challenged as people around wondered what is happening.  For most of the women it has been the first ever time to visit that neighborhood vendor.  But such a move is surely a big step to reclaim what has been rightfully theirs, a step to question the deep ingrained patriarchal notions, a step to break free from unsaid norms and live freely.

There were two things to this; one is the unsaid rules and notions around gendered access to spaces and then the safety issues around violence and harassment in the minds of women which further restricts their presence in streets, market and other public spaces.   Haiyya’s efforts along the safe and accessible neighborhood program aims around development and implementation of such tools, tactics and comprehensive approaches in response to and for the prevention of gender based sexual harassment, other forms of violence on women and girls resulting safer accessibility and a strengthened action against harassment in public spaces.

Haiyya commits to gender justice, come join us in spreading the movement!Join our campaign on #womensaccess in Delhi for a safer neighborhood!

Sukhmani Grover is partnership and communications associate on Haiyya’s campaign to reclaim women’s safer and equal access to public spaces. She strongly believes in collective power and action as a step to achieve gender equity. She is driven by theater being a tool for social change. She can be contacted at sukhmani@haiyya.in

 

 

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Ek awaaz hain mujh mein: My story within theatre and community

-By Mehak and Sukhmani

Abhivyakti

Performance by Abhivyakti, Street Play team of Indraprastha College, Delhi University at Khirki, Malviya Nagar

On the day of International Women’s day, I along with my team Abhivyakti, the theatre group of IP College, were keen on performing our annual production of street play ‘Mooch Neech ka Paapda’. The play essentially portrays gender bias and questions the system of Patriarchy with a focused approach towards an equal and a humanitarian society, in different city neighbourhoods.  Haiyya being an active organisation around building strong neighbourhoods in Khirki, Delhi which works towards equal and safer access to women in public spaces was an instant click with us! I have a long array of words to describe the power packed day but none that even closely fits to my experience.  To describe it in the simplest possible manner, it was a full of beautiful experiences and positivity, where my team and I got a chance to portray that equality between all genders is what we seek for which is crucial as a first step to get rid of the violence faced by women.  Theatre has always been a medium of change, learning and growth in my life and a source of energy.  It is an experience which takes makes you grow from inside, you are crushed and you are recreated; you always have more within you after these realisations.  It amazes me how few things in life cannot be articulated in words.  It has helped me transcend my inhibitions and delve into the depths of creativity and enabled me to cultivate that inner eye which helps me explore each and every element that lies hidden inside me.  And I feel, when you fully embrace theatre, it gives you more than you would ever imagine.

One of the beautiful incidents from the day that flashes in front of my eyes, when a resident of Khirki area, a girl in mid twenties  appreciated our performance and was extremely overwhelmed by the spirit of the cause.  She further shared with us how she has always aspired to be a dancer and after her father’s death she started keeping unwell.  The people around also kept asking her “ab kya kaam karegi, shaadi kaise hogi teri aur mummy ka kya karegi? (What would you do now? How will your mother get you married?)” To which she pointed, “Mujhe farak nahin padhta koi shaadi kare na kare, main toh apni mummy ko hee dahej mein leke jaungi, jise yeh manzoor hoga use shaadi karungi (I don’t care if someone wishes to marry me in the future or not. My mother would come with me as my dowry. I will marry someone who agrees to this condition)”.  This is where I had a realization that this is the kind of spirit and belief in oneself every woman should have.
Our performance led to a focused group discussion in the community around the same issue.  This was one of the best experiences I have had of interacting with community at a platform where we heard their actual voices.   While getting into intense conversations with people from the community, I felt so grounded and confident.  The confidence gained, the real time experiences have been learning in abundance, this personal journey of mine to understand and take theater as a tool for social change.

I feel it is important for the community to understand their issues and work around them together.  In the beginning, I felt the interest of the people being low in our performance and we had those fears that very soon we’ll be asked to leave as we are questioning something that has been there and accepted for ages.  In complete contrast to what I had assumed, there were young girls and some married women who were willing to share their experiences and narrate their stories around the kind of violence they’ve faced all this while and how strongly they felt to change this. I think with time and with more and more women coming out to speak up and rebel, other women will definitely get the strength.

Another incident was with an old man who came up to us and was excited to tell us about how he allows his daughter to work and do whatever she wants to do, and said “tu kaam kar aur naam kama, humne toh tujhe humesha se hee apne bete jaisi beti maana hai”.  This is where my problem begins, the fact that why does a ‘beti’ has to be a ‘bete jaisi beti’ to live the way she wants to and work for her dreams.  Why do we tend to compare two different genders on the basis of some gender roles that have been forced ever since we were born?  I think it’s high time that we try to see beyond the system blinded by patriarchy, the fact that men and women are equal but not the same.  So there can’t be any comparison, both deserve a chance to decide the kind of life they wish to live without fearing the societal pressures.

I wish to quote a few inspiring lines from our play-

Ek awaaz hai tujh mein,
Jo goonjti hai har pal
Kehti hai, tere liye yahi sahi.
Par shaayad, woh sahi nahi.
Na gyaani, na sant, na tark anant.
Chunn sake tere liye
Thheher, abb sunn zara.
Jo ek awaaz hai tujh mein.

We may not be there yet, but definitely closer to where we were yesterday.

Mehak Aneja is a student of Mass Media and Mass Communication at Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi. She is a budding theater artist, loves to immerse herself in the world of art & aesthetics. She strongly believes in equality for all genders.

Sukhmani Grover is partnership and communications associate  on Haiyya’s campaign to reclaim women’s safer and equal access to public spaces. She strongly believes in collective power and action as a step to achieve gender equity. She is driven by theater being a tool for social change