OPINION: There’s more to making roads safer for women than just CCTV cameras

OPINION: There’s more to making roads safer for women than just CCTV cameras
Budget 2022-23 reflects the vision of the union government in reimagining cities as centres of sustainable living with opportunities for all, including the youth and women. The unwavered and continued thrust of the budget on Nari Shakti (women power) with focus on education, skilling, entrepreneurship, and financial inclusion is commendable. What is not desirable is the unidimensional approach to enhancing women’s access within urban centres.

This year, the gender budget in urban spaces is dominated by the allocations of ₹520 crores for safe cities, ₹250 crores for emergency response, ₹20 crores for the safety of women in public road transport, and ₹5.27 crore for the safety of women tourists. This is indeed a much-needed step in the right direction. Safety is a key factor enabling women’s unfettered access to economic opportunities that a city has to offer. At the same time, as India begins a critical 25-year journey to 100 years of independence, the country should expand its approach to women empowerment from protection against unsafe incidents to inclusion.

In other words, India’s safe city paradigm should shift to cover safer and inclusive streets and public spaces. Budget allocations towards well-functioning and continuous street lighting, public amenities such as toilets, and lounge areas for women, more ‘eyes on the street’ as natural surveillance through mixed-land use and presence of hawkers and diverse gender/age population are low-hanging high-impact initiatives cities should undertake.

Additionally, planning measures such as bus services on routes frequented by women, multimodal and first- last-mile connectivity, providing real-time transport schedules, developing on-demand stops at night, etc., are a few but necessary measures to provide safety in public transportation. Combined with accessible and seamless grievance redressal systems and safety audits, the effectiveness of safe city initiatives can be ensured.

Recognising that gender issues are not unidimensional, safe cities should operate at the intersection of different identities and marginalisations. The safety and accessibility needs of elderly women, pregnant women, women with young children, and women with disabilities, et al need to be integrated into safe city initiatives of India, with learnings for the world. Catering to intersectionality would enable cities to implement wider footpaths, kerb ramps, handrails, spacious restrooms, seating spaces, feeding areas, etc., creating a more inclusive built environment.


Additionally, a gender-mainstreamed city plan and associated budgets should take into account facilities like childcare centres, play areas, community centres, clustering of daily amenities either placed along or within walking distance of transit stops, and rental housing for working women.

Safe city initiatives for women, therefore, should be rebranded as Safe, Accessible, and Inclusive City initiatives. That’s the only way for cities to reduce their overreliance on CCTV cameras and instead enable the freedom of movement of women at all times of the day and night. The current approach to safe cities has the risk of leaving women’s ‘right to the city’ unattended, thereby holding them back from living full lives. For instance, the existing premise is that unless a city installs CCTV cameras on all roads, every nook and corner, women’s mobility will be curtailed. Women may not be able to work late at night or pursue education far away from home. But are CCTVs effective in minimising gender-based violence and making women “feel safe”?

At best these cameras can help solve crime after it has been committed and may to some degree minimise crime by increasing the risk of detection for criminal behaviour. India, thus, urgently needs to expand the paradigm of safe cities, and place safe, accessible, and inclusive mobility front and centre.

This is not just what the authors of this op-ed want, but what girls and women across India need and deserve. Women constantly make decisions about their commute and expect public transport systems to be affordable, reliable, frequent, comfortable, clean, and safe. Women’s mobility involves trip chaining, travelling with dependents or in off-peak hours, etc. Thus, safety is not the sole priority. Recognising this and leveraging Budget 2022-23, India should aspire to integrate gender equity – comprehensively address women’s needs – in urban planning, development, and governance.

The above should be combined with digitalisation and the use of geo-spatial data to track, compare and represent longer-term developments - aspects that the budget already emphasises upon, and justifiably so. Use of mapping and geotagging to report incidents, and notify other women of unsafe areas will have a profound impact on women’s mobility. This would allow for the implementation of safe, accessible, and inclusive city initiatives in an agile, responsive fashion.

Overall, unlocking Nari Shakti is not only about women being safe from harassment, but also about enabling their meaningful participation in shaping urban governance and development. Just as India is leading by example by enabling a woman finance minister to steer the country towards growth and sustainable development, all cities and states too should enable women to have a seat at the decision-making table. Women’s voices - needs and aspirations - would thus be heard, leading to the creation of gender-inclusive built environments accompanied by urban policies and budgets. Even as the Union Budget provides a fillip to urban planning, it is imperative that women plan with the city and not be planned for.

Multi-level, multi-sectoral, and multi-stakeholder engagement will lead to sustained progress on gender equity. We need gender-sensitive transformative urban policies at all government levels with intersectional coalitions for implementing and closing the feedback loop. This should be supplemented through gender-disaggregated data collection, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes to assess impacts, gender-budgeting at the city level, and increased public awareness.

As the budget lays the blueprint for India@2047, it is time to tap into the potential of Nari Shakti by ensuring that investments benefit them, and we realise the vision of a women-led Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Aishwarya Raman is Director and Head of Research, Ola Mobility Institute (OMI). Aishwarya Agarwal is Research Associate, Accessibility and Inclusion, OMI.

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