Archive | 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

 

Stop blaming, enough!

-By Sugatha and Salini

Image

Not just statistics we hear on news channels or read in newspapers, but our very own experiences expose us to the harsh realities of how strained, restricted and tormenting women’s access to public spaces is.  The mental agony we go through to when we have to access these spaces, or while we are already doing so, or post this access is disheartening.  Haiyya has kick started a strong, hard hitting campaign to claim this very basic right (that is actually even constitutional) of equal access to public spaces in Malviya Nagar, New Delhi.  It is directed at bringing the communities together to develop leadership among themselves and take ownership of this campaign in a sustainable and powerful way, thus making public spaces in their neighborhood equally accessible to women.

The campaign aims at reclaiming public spaces in a way that women feel safe at all hours and there is firm intolerance towards violence against women.  Also, when we talk about impact and social change, art is the strongest and most effective tool of social engagement and change.  It is undoubtedly the most dynamic agent to give actual shape to emotions and values and to actually get people to think, absorb and act.  The power of art motivated Haiyya to integrate it with our campaign and thus came into light Fankari, our art hub; it’s an institution of social change in its might and strength.  

Over all in our people sabhas, one thing has been common and rampant and that is victim blaming.  Women are actually blaming themselves for the act of violence on them and other women, and the rest of the society is actually doing the same as well.  To be precise, everyone is blaming women for everything.  Now, this makes us extremely angry and drives us to actually make every woman realize that they are in no way responsible for, accountable to, or to be blamed for any act of violence on them.  Deep inside, we know that every woman knows this and with push, comfort, and bonding, this can be definitely extracted from within them.  This can be converted into action, and by action, we mean real action.

From the very beginning of the past week, we were extremely charged and fired up to make this one hell of a week on the field.  As soon as we decided on the  theme of the week to be around victim and self blaming, all our emotions surged forward and shaped in the form of anger, hurt, resentment and all of this put together became our energy to say- “stop blaming, we have had enough. ” There is absolutely not one day that passes without having been subjected to victim blaming.  Why are you wearing this, don’t you know what will happen on the street; you should keep your voice low in public spaces; tie your hair, it would attract lesser people and on and on.

We seriously have had enough of this gender bias.  What do we mean by rules for men and women, girls and boys? How and why have we framed these rules? Aren’t they bizarre themselves? The minute you hear yourself say it, don’t you feel pathetic? Battling through all these questions, we as a team started working on the theme of the week ahead.  

The taunts that start from childhood, the subtle reminders that the way you dress can invite trouble is sometimes inscribed in young minds by the ones that encompass them.  Since this nurturing of mind is done over a course of time, just like how sometimes a lie said over a 100 times appears to start feeling true, the victim tends to believe it was she who  instigated the behavior from the counter side that transpired to what took place.

We all know that this notion is a wrong one to be carried forward, yet we feel it easier to tame woman and keep her under covers than push some sense into the actual delinquent.  It is funny how sometimes the society teaches one to “not get raped” rather than NOT rape! An act as small as teasing of a girl by a boy when not corrected at the right time and age can lead to a personality built around this trait.  Talks and behavior at home deeply influences the child’s outlook.

Looking at the various tools that can be adopted to get the message of victim blaming out there, the one we adopted for kids was representation of thoughts through visual art.

Among the many tools we felt, art is a form that tends to stick and also impart a sense of creation when engaged with.  Young ones best respond and interact when exposed to colors and sketching when compared to mere exchange of words.  Hence we started off with a skit on victim blaming to break the ice and get the thought process flowing among the kids who were participating.  It was a role play on how a girl child is asked to dress in a particular manner and if any wrong doing befalls on the child it is the clothing to be blamed.  In the second scene there is a boy who is beaten up for wearing shorts but that very scenario is alien to us as “what is wrong in that” comes rushing to our minds.  The bias that we are brought up in entangles and sometimes even blurs out our understanding of the victim from the offender.

On completion, many kids could connect to the thoughts relayed.  They were more open to discussions and thoughts around the idea of gender equality and notions.  The children were then asked to put down their thoughts and emotions in the form of a visual representation.  Their drawings resonated strong emotions as in, if boy and girl are to be viewed with the same lens then why the bias in certain situations alone?

 Why is it that the girl child is sometimes in the name of protection asked to even abstain from opportunities? The entire activity was to build sensitization around the topic of victim blaming.  To erode away the tiny seeds that may have been planted over the course of time and experience.  To empower them to have a voice to approach their parents and loved ones without the fear or the guilt of self blame.

The raw experiences of the young ones were then carried forward the next day into the people sabha, this being the last people sabha for the month of March in Khirki, Malviya Nagar.  It was volatile, progressive and best put, rocking.  The people sabha was structured and planned in such a way that we could create a sense of urgency around the issue of women’s access to public spaces and how they and the society at large need to stop blaming women and actually address the issue.

Anjali, our field & legal intern, shared important existing laws around harassment in public spaces which women were not aware of.  This engaged women strongly around why implementation of law fails and therefore allows violence against women to perpetuate.  It angered them and steered the conversations around how victim blaming needs to stop completely.  All women in the group resonated with this thought and vowed to restrain from victim and self blaming.

There was friction and conflict in the group when a couple of women actually advocated the idea of women staying covered up as a potential solution to prevent harassment in public and private spaces.  The larger group hearing this radicalized the conversations to stop restricting, blaming, or covering up women and actually addressing the core of harassment and its real prevention.

The sabha discussions were intense.  Twenty women were themselves doing issue cut/target identification around why people blame women, the role of police and public at large in perpetuating violence, lack of awareness of both legal and fundamental rights, especially among women.  

A strong observation from last week and one which cannot be ignored is that most men are intimidated by groups of women taking charge and immediately take a protectionist, yet uninvolved attitude, as if trying to perpetuate gender bias in whatever they can.  It is essential that all these barriers of gender bias which directly and indirectly perpetuate violence against women need to break and pave way for gender equity.  People strongly need to understand the essence of community organizing over service provision and the sustainability and efficacy of the former.  Breaking silence takes time and people sabhas are the perfect platforms that actually allow a lot of women to share their public narratives.  This brings the community closer and raises the urgency on the issue.  We as a community need to build on our collective strength and actually live it out to “Zor lagake haiyya. ”

 

Sugatha Balagopal works as an intern with Haiyya in Delhi for past 3 months

Salini Sharma is the community leadership organizer on Haiyya’s campaign directed at reclaiming women’s equal access to public spaces; a right that is anyway and equally theirs.  She is driven to make violence against women of all forms intolerable as clearly women have had enough! Zor lagake Haiyya!