By Sukhmani Grover
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 firstname.lastname@example.org