“These issues have existed forever, but it’s only now that people no longer laugh at you for bringing them up,” says Shilpa Ranade, architect and researcher, as we discuss gendered spaces, the idea of a ‘safe space’, and the safety of women on our streets.
Shilpa, the co-author of ‘Why Loiter?’, was one of the speakers at ‘Moving Safer’, a workshop on women’s safety organized by Prajnya 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence, in association with ITDP.
“Traditionally, we tend to believe that a ‘safe’ public space is one that has more ‘security’ in terms of fences, gates and high walls. But what these things do effectively is to keep women out. In Mumbai, we’ve identified several public spaces that are frequented by women, and many more that are not. The difference is that the areas which women feel safe in are those which are open, which have more people of all socio-economic groups frequenting them, which stay active for longer hours,” says Shilpa.
Shilpa believes that what we need to do today is to design public places in such a way that women can ‘loiter’ without necessarily a reason to do so. “Half the time, it’s the fear of what might happen that curbs and constrains women from going out. I believe that while sexual assault is a horrible thing, it’s not the end of the world for women, it doesn’t have to mean that her life is over. The fear is far more incapacitating than the actual incidence, and we need to make everyday access easier for women so that they can come out more.”
“In Mumbai, which is where I come from, public toilets for women in stations are open only till 9pm. So effectively, what you’re telling women is that they have no business to be out after 9pm, which is completely wrong,” she adds.
Shilpa Ranade is a practicing architect and researcher based in Mumbai. She trained in architecture at CEPT, Ahmedabad and did her M.A. in Cultural Studies at the University of Arizona, Tucson. She has co-authored a book on women and public space, Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets (Penguin India, 2011) with Shilpa Phadke and Sameera Khan.