Urban planning and women safety

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This article is written by Umang Dudeja, pursuing BBA LLB from IMS Unison University, Dehradun. This article is basically upon urban planning and the safety of women, how to make women safe in society by using urban planning.

Introduction

Safe public spaces for enjoyment have become critical priorities for cities around the world. Public protection is a basic necessity for cities to become inclusive and sustainable. Such performance standards are difficult to quantify on the scale of local communities and streets, and this can have life-and-death effects on vulnerable and disadvantaged populations such as women, children and urban newcomers who are unfamiliar with local hazards and risks. 

According to the World Health Organisation, one in three women experienced some form of physical or sexual assault. This is only normal for women to have retained and internalized significant emotional and psychological distress, considering the high rate of incidents globally. This kind of constant and powerful stress has impaired their mobility over hundreds of years and prevented them from realizing their true potential, hampering not only people but communities and economies as a whole. The need of the hour is gender-sensitive urban planning. Since more than three decades, combating violence against women has been the main aim of the international women’s movement but little has changed. Abuse against women is a breach of human rights and a significant impediment to achieving gender equality worldwide.

As for India, the nation’s Gender Gap Index (GGI) ranking in the 2018 World Economic Forum (WEF) was 108 which is very disappointing, the same as it was in 2017. GGI is an index designed to measure gender equality among countries and relies on the study of four pillars i.e. economic participation and opportunity, political empowerment, education, and health and survival. India needs to perform across all these pillars to achieve a significant ranking, with economic participation being of utmost importance as it directly impacts the GDP of the country.

Making cities safer for women and girls

In India, urban planning, a prerogative of architecture and infrastructure has never been synonymous with ‘health,’ which is primarily a question of law and order. But by implementing and promoting sustainable structures, city planners play a significant role in developing healthier communities.

It is well-documented that urban areas with no or inadequate streetlights are vulnerable to crime. Well-lit streets offer users, especially pedestrians, a more secure atmosphere. The correlation between insufficient street lights and gender abuse became popular when, during the economic crisis of 2008, several cities in the United States reduced street lighting as a cost-saving measure. An unexpected consequence of this marginal reduction was the overwhelmingly strong and detrimental impact that it had on the protection of women. Throughout that time, several cities saw an increase in the rate of gender violence and harassment.

‘Dimly lit roads’ have been widely cited as a major cause of concern for women’s safety in Indian cities, with frequent reports of accidents in metropolitan areas such as Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai and cities such as Trichy and Bhopal. While there are no studies or analyzes available yet to estimate the magnitude of this problem nationally, in Delhi, in 2016, the state government recognized the existence of more than 7,000 ‘dark spots’ (low visibility spots or poor lighting) and their effect on women’s safety. Increased visibility is obviously relevant for reducing gender and other crimes in public spaces.

It is critical that our ‘growth engines’ – our cities are healthier, more stable and more comfortable for women to drive gender equality for economic development. In 2012, in the nation’s capital city of Delhi, the brutal Nirbhaya gang rape caused outrage not only in India but around the globe forcing the government to amend the anti-rape laws.

Unfortunately, legislative amendments have not so far stopped or reduced the violence women face in public spaces. Violence against women and girls continues to plague our highways, public transit and even leisure areas. The number of actions of gender-based abuse in public areas, ranging from non-physical harassment such as making sexual remarks, offensive looking or gesturing, to violent harassment such as molestation, physical assaults like acid attack and rapes.

Arts and campaigns

Raising awareness is one of the first steps towards building and mobilizing key stakeholders to work in public spaces to mitigate and eliminate abuse and the threat of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). This by art is one of the effective ways for abuse and VAWG to get coverage and expand it.

In India, five cases of rape are reported every hour, one case of stalking is reported every hour, and three cases of sexual harassment are reported every hour. Although according to government data 99% of cases of sexual assaults go unreported. In 2018, India was listed as the country with the greatest risk and danger to women. A tentative example of this idea was seen in Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s effort to challenge a flirt and teach him a lesson with a bottle of coke.

Another example is the ‘Women on the Walls’ initiative, launched in Egypt in the Arab Spring of 2013, which used graffiti and street art in order to increase awareness of the rights and issues of women to help empower Arab women. The initiative also promotes the presence of more female graffiti artists in the streets of Egypt and is now a growing network of artists throughout the Middle East.

Impact of technology

With the evolution of technology spreading like sugar in water in our lives, the women of our time are at a fascinating threshold. On the one hand, there are plenty of possibilities the internet opens up for us, and on the other, there is over-dependence on it and less self-dependence. Now that mobile technology has arrived, knowledge is right on our fingertips and women make good use of it.

Women’s protection is a key problem that has been addressed at length by even PM Modi and tech seems to be a possible solution to the issue. There hasn’t been a scalable and robust breakthrough concept yet; however, there are many developments that have contributed to positive steps forward in this space. Such advancements concentrate on main areas of emphasis, such as during travel, at home, or at night, depending on the technology environment and knowledge at the time. Some of those developments are sponsored, others aren’t, but they all have a significant effect on women’s health – after all, in our country, security is a “human right” rather than a privilege.

Star India Pvt. has created VithU an emergency communication and notification device and has more than 2 million Google Play Store downloads. They had a big marketing campaign to build properties in the city and also persuaded actors and celebrities to support them actively through their social media. Essentially, it is a special app that sends location and last-seen information to pre-selected users and also has the ability to transmit location notifications to someone on the other end every two minutes.

Similarly, the Karnataka government’s Suraksha app is a major leap in the space of successful evidence-based, police-controlled approach to catching the perpetrators of violence against women. This app, which can be downloaded on smartphone free of charge, will help women in distress alert police for help, as it is connected to the city’s police control room and vehicle patrol. More than 200 cars have also been made available to patrol cities for women’s health and empowerment. The person in distress is expected to hold the phone with this device in front of the attacker, so the camera can capture a 10-second video. An alarm will be sent to the control room along with the video.

At most, technology can only be a facilitator for ensuring women’s health. When a woman under assault will not be able to use it, this cannot be a foolproof solution. When her attackers have restrained her, it might not be of much use. Technology-based systems may basically serve as a deterrent.

The use of technology must be complemented by practical self-defence and safety awareness training, which will allow the victim a buffer time in case of a surprise attack to use the tool. Additionally, in the event of harassment and violence, offices and police stations must be made woman-friendly so that people are able to contact law enforcement.

Urban planning’s role in making India safer for women

A safe city for women, according to UN Women, is a city where women can enjoy public spaces and public life without fear of being assaulted, and where violence against women is not exercised either at the home or on the street.

A safe city is also one where women are not discriminated against and where their economic, social, political and cultural rights are safeguarded, including participation in decisions affecting the community in which they live.

Safe cities ensure the human rights of all residents, and state and local government take measures to provide coverage, deter and prosecute violence against women and ensure access to justice for women.

There are various things in urban planning which are to be taken care of in order to make India safe for women, as these things are making the situation of women more vulnerable:

  1. Bad urban infrastructure i.e. dark or dimly lit streets, dilapidated parks and vacant lots, poorly managed public areas, inadequate signage and lack of public toilets. 
  2. Lonely streets at night, due to the early closing of shops and businesses or lack of a street life tradition.
  3. Lack of sufficient public transit, and bus owners, drivers and passengers apathy. 
  4. Insufficient presence of police and local authorities and unresponsive or hostile attitudes. 
  5. Neighbourhood loneliness and lack of group life.
  6. Common conceptions of anonymity, and community or police reluctance to interfere in domestic violence cases.
  7. Ideas and convictions about appropriate behaviour, leading to a reticence to participate in cases of public violence.

Measures in other countries

After the 1960s, women’s safety concern had risen in cities in many countries around the world, but no country has anything to do with gender equality, although some places are safer than others to be a woman. The Women, Peace and Security Index seeks to understand these global differences by measuring women’s inclusion in society, sense of security, and exposure to discrimination key indicators of how women are faring. The statistics of Global Gender Gap Report 2018 indicate that some of the worst women’s countries have made gains, even though some of the best are lagging behind in key areas.

Countries which are most dangerous for women are (Record of 2018):

  1. India
  2. Afghanistan
  3. Syria
  4. Somalia
  5. Saudi Arabia
  6. Pakistan
  7. DRC
  8. Yemen
  9. Nigeria
  10.  USA

Women in developed countries are also grappling with threats to their health. A 2012 London poll showed that over the past year 43 per cent of young people had witnessed street harassment. In France, a 2013 study found that, according to Susan Blumenthal in her article for The Huffington Post, 1 in 4 women felt fear while in public spaces and 1 in 5 were sexually assaulted while walking on the streets last year.

Women’s health assessment tools are now being used in societies around the world. It uses a participatory approach to promote direct contact with city leaders and civil society organizations. Initially based around situational principles of crime reduction, it includes groups of women and girls walking around public spaces in their neighbourhoods, often with city officials or police officers, to locate places that feel unsafe. The results are used to establish the city’s recommendations. Responses to the problems found during the audit that vary from expensive long-term changes to low-cost ones.

Improving urban services

Urban services can be improved by creating safe public places and spaces by keeping in mind the safety of women around us. Even today, many women around the world do not feel secure, accepted or relaxed in the public sphere. Women are often confined in many ways to their homes, with no room for them in public. In places like Saudi Arabia, India, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and other countries, if she even dares to appear in public on herself, a woman is considered unvirtuous (and a victim of harassment or worse). In addition, inadequate urban environments which make life more difficult for all affected women.

The number of women appearing in the public realm, during daytime and particularly at night, is an indicator of a society’s health and a city’s safety and livability. The more women conceive of the built environment, the more people feel safe, accepted and relaxed using public space and the more livable a community would be for everyone.

While designing and organizing public spaces can generally promote crime reduction, the way a community reacts to an unexpected occurrence can set a precedent, and from the viewpoint of women’s health, directly affect future events.

Today, conviction rates for crimes against women are 19 percent, while India’s average total crime conviction rate is 47 percent. Survivors of sexual or physical attacks in public or private environments are uncertain and confused about police and justice procedures, disciplinary nature, duration of court and the social stigma applied to them. We need reliable and rapid recording and handling systems for these problems.

Transportation infrastructure can impact women enormously. Well-lit and well-supervised parking lots are important, especially at night, with clear view lines to the street and surrounding buildings. Also extremely important are train stations, train platforms, bus stations, and cab stations which feel safe and comfortable for women. Women-friendly travel infrastructure provides fair access for women to all parts of the town.

Conclusion

Even after so much, there is no proper planning which one can say will surely work in our society, sometimes there are women who don’t even take care of themselves and sometimes it’s the society. There are various matters which we see in our daily life related to women safety but what we do is nothing, we simply listen to it, have some debate on it and then let it go. We have to not only make the urban planning a strong one, which is basically used for the purpose of rape, harassing women, teasing, etc. but also change the mentality of the people living in the society. Government and private individuals are taking initiatives towards the safety of women by launching apps, making laws, improving the transportation system, making well lit and protected public places, promoting events, arts and campaigns to make the women aware of their right and for their protection that if they are in any trouble how they have to defend themselves and many more. 

References

  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462781/
  • https://poll2018.trust.org/
  • https://thewire.in/society/a-closer-look-at-statistics-on-sexual-violence-in-india
  • https://www.urbanet.info/safe-cities-for-women-and-girls-part-ii/
  • https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/gender-equality/
  • https://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/report-being-a-woman-in-modi-s-new-india-2837977
  • https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-rape-factbox/statistics-on-rape-in-india-and-some-well-known-cases-idUSKBN1YA0UV
  • https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women

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